Dealing With HR, Benefits & Other Headaches From Equifax and Other Data Breach

October 6, 2017

As businesses continue to struggle to comply with the growing plethora of federal and state laws mandating data security, the identity theft and cyber security epidemic keeps growing.

As human resources and other business leaders work to guard their own data and respond to employee demands for assistance in responding to breaches of their personal financial and other data, this weeks’ announcement that embattled credit monitoring giant Equifax has been awarded the exclusive contract to provide taxpayer identification and fraud prevention services to the Internal Revenue Service has many questioning whether these investments are futile.

The IRS’ announcement comes despite the September 7, 2017 announcement by Equifax of a data breach of its records impacting sensitive personal information of millions of consumers including:

  • The names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of an estimated 143 million U.S. consumers;
  • Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers,
  • Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers,and
  • Personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian consumers.

The huge breach already was creating many headaches for many businesses and their human resources departments before the IRS announced the award of the contract to Equifax. Due to the massive size of the breach, mist companies have been required to respond to concerns of workers impacted directly by the breach as well as requests of employees and identity theft protection companies that the business consider offering cybersecurity protection for employees or customers.

Beyond helping their workforce understand and cope with the news, many businesses and employee benefit plans also face the added headache of needing to investigate and respond to concerns about their own potential responsibilities to provide breach notification or take other actions. This added headache arises due to their or their plans’ use of Equifax or vendors utilizing Equifax to run employee or vendor background checks or carry out internal employee or employee benefit plan, customer or other business activities. These involvements often give rise to duties to conduct investigations and potentially provide notification or other responses to employees, applicants, benefit plan members, contractors or customers whose data may have been impacted under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Fiduciary Responsibility rules or various other federal and state laws and regulations, vendor contracts or their own data privacy or security policies.

When notification is recommended or required, human resources and other business leaders also have to consider if modifications should be considered to standard protocols recommended to data breach victims. Notification and registration as an identity theft victim with Equifax long has been a standard part of the federal and state government recommended protocol for recommended to consumers impacted by identity theft or other data breaches. See,e.g., IRS Taxpayer Guide To Identity Theft. Although government agencies as of yet have not changed this recommendation to remove Equifax reporting, many consumers and others view reporting to Equifax as akin to the fox watching the hen house. Consequently, employers and other parties helping consumers respond to the breach often receive push back or questions from consumers about the appropriateness and security reporting to Equifax in light of its breach.

Beyond evaluating and handling their own legal responsibilities to investigate and deal with any breach impacting their data, employers and other business leaders also likely are or should consider what claims against Equifax, other vendors and business partners involved with Equifax and their own liability insurers are available and warranted to help cover the costs and potential liabilities for the business arising from the breach and it’s fall out.

As employers and other businesses work through these issues, They should keep in mind that the fallout is likely to continue for years and be further complicated by past and subsequent breaches impacting other governmental and private organizations. Human resources, employee benefits and other businesses and their leaders can expect to experience challenges dealing with fraudulent uses of misappropriated information as well as demands that they tighten up their background check, data security and usage and other practices and documentation to mitigate risks from the compromised data.

Human resources, employee benefits and other business leaders need to secure the assistance of counsel experienced in guiding their organizations through these and other challenges.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com such as the following:

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Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


Learn About Rising Group Health Plan Mental Health Mandate Risks From 6/27 “2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update”

June 22, 2017

Register Now To Participate In 

“2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update

Solutions Law Press, Inc™ Health Plan Update WebEx Briefing  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

10:30 A.M.-11:30 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-12:30 P.M. Central

EXPANDING REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS & ENFORCEMENT SPELL TROUBLE FOR HEALTH PLANS AND THEIR SPONSORING EMPLOYERS.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative service providers, plan brokers and consultants are invited learn critical information about their expanding risks and responsibilities arising from existing and proposed changes to rules and enforcement of federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse (MH/SUB) coverage and privacy rules under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), as supplemented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) and the Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits recognized as among the “Best Lawyers” in employee benefits for her health and other benefit knowledge, experience, policy advocacy and thought leadership.  Register here now!

Tightening Health Plan Mental Health & Substance Abuse Rules & Enforcement Make Group Health Plan Compliance Critical

New and proposed guidance jointly published June 16, 2017 by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health & Human Services (HHS) and Treasury is the latest in a series of regulatory and enforcement developments over the past year alerting  group health plans and their employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration to get serious about their group health plans’ compliance with the MHPAEA federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse coverage and benefit requirements, as supplemented by the ACA and the Cures Act without running afoul of the Privacy Rules of HIPAA.

Building upon federal group health plan mental health parity mandates originally implemented under the Mental Health Parity Act, the MHPAEA generally requires that any financial requirements or treatment limitations group health plans impose on mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits not be restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical and surgical benefits. MHPAEA also imposes several disclosure requirements on group health plans and health insurance issuers.  Not satisfied with the MHPAEA coverage and disclosure protections, however, Congress subsequently broadened federal MH/SUD benefit rights under group health plans through the enactment of the ACA and the Cures Act.  Congress also has imposed special requirements and protections for mental health treatment records adds additional responsibilities for group health plans and their service providers when dealing with information and records in connection with the administration of MH/SUD benefits.

After a long period of lax oversight and enforcement of these federal group health plan mental health rules, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) since October, 2016 have begun both tightening the rules and acting to increase oversight and enforcement.  The Departments have issued a series of joint guidance clarifying and broadening their interpretations of these MH/SUD benefit and disclosure mandates while simultaneously taking steps to increase awareness and enforcement of these rights.  As part of these ongoing efforts, Departments’ on June 16, 2017 expanded this guidance with their publication of new Mental Health Parity Implementation FAQs Part 38 discussing their joint interpretation of the broadening effect of the enactment of the ACA and the Cure Act on these plan requirements.  Concurrently, the Departments signaled their intention to add additional responsibilities for group health plans and insurers by publishing along with FAQ Part 38 a Draft MHPAEA Disclosure Template and request for comments.  This latest guidance package reaffirms that the Departments are continuing efforts to increase oversight of and enforcement of MH/SUD compliance against group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers.  In the face of these developments and the reported initiation of enforcement actions by the Departments, the group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers should move quickly to understand and update their plans and practices to comply with these recent developments while bracing for the likely need to deal with further expanded disclosure and other additional responsibilities under the MHPAEA jointly proposed by the Departments on June 16, 2017.

Beyond fulfilling these expanding MHPAEA responsibilities, health plan fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and sponsors also must ensure their health plan and its business associates comply with  special rules concerning the protection, use and disclosure of mental health treatment records and information that may impact certain mental health treatment and other records received, used, retained or disclosed in the course of administering mental health, substance abuse or other provisions of their group health plans under the HIPAA Privacy Rules.  Keeping in mind that HHS audit and enforcement of compliance by health plans and other HIPAA covered entities with HIPAA’s medical privacy and data security rules, health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrative and other service providers also should take the opportunity to verify that their plans and practices comply with special HIPAA rules impacting authorizations and other dealings with certain mental health and substance abuse health information and records and other HIPAA medical privacy and security requirements.

Given these developments, group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrator must take steps to verify and maintain compliance with these federal MH/SUD requirements.  Ensuring proper compliance with these federal rules is particularly important to avoid triggering the substantial liability that health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, and administrators can incur if their health plan violates these mandates.  Obviously, plans and their sponsors, insurers and fiduciaries can expect to pay additional plan expenses necessary to pay wrongfully denied benefits and other expenditures these plan or its fiduciaries expend to investigate, defend and resolve claims or compliance audits, investigations, litigation or actions brought by the Departments, state insurance regulators with respect to state governments or insurers, or private litigation by participants or beneficiaries.  Many employer or other plan sponsors may be unaware that these violations also generally expose employers and other health plan sponsors to liability to self identify, self-report on Internal Revenue Service Form 8928 and self-pay and excise tax of up to $100 per participant per day per uncorrected violation by the due date for filing of their annual corporate tax return.

With oversight and enforcement already rising and the Departments proposing to expand further both disclosure duties and enforcement, group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators clearly need to take prompt action to verify their existing health plan provisions and administrative practices are up-to-date and administered to withstand challenge from the Departments, participants, beneficiaries, health care providers and others. Consequently, employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration should act quickly to verify their plan terms and practices are updated to comply with existing rules and share their input in response to the Departments June 16, 2017 requests for comments.

ABOUT CYNTHIA MARCOTTE STAMER

Recognized as “Legal Leader™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” and an  “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble, singled out as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits by D Magazine; Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health coverage and health care, health plan and employee benefits, workforce and related regulatory and other compliance, performance management, risk management, product and process development, public policy, operations and other concerns.

Throughout her legal and consulting career, Ms. Stamer has  drawn recognition for combining extensive knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and problem solver when advising, representing and defending employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, electronic and other technology, plan administrators and other service providers, governments and others about health coverage, benefit program design, funding, documentation, administration, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management and operations matters  as well as for her work and thought leadership on a broad range of other health,  employee benefits, human resources and other workforce, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters.  Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators,  She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Past Group Chair, current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Welfare Committee Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications.  She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.SolutionsLawPress.com.

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Parties accessing or using any of Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

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SHOP Marketplace Still Health Coverage Option For Small Employers; All Employers Should Confirm Health Plan Compliance

May 10, 2017

While Congress continues to debate the future of the Obamacare health reforms and its exchanges, the Department of Health & Human Services is reminding employers with less than 50 employees that wish to offer group health coverage for their employees to check out their coverage options offered the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace established as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Before or when offering health coverage for employees or their dependents, employers and their management should confirm they fully understand and appropriately arrange for fulfillment of all applicable federal, contractual and other requirements to avoid unfortunate and often expensive liabilities.

The SHOP Marketplace is intended to offer an opportunity for for small employers who want to provide health and dental insurance to their employees.  Use of the SHOP Marketplace to obtain coverage may be an option for an employer if it is a business or non-profit organization with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs).  An employer that qualifies to get group health coverage through the SHOP doesn’t have to wait for an annual enrollment period;  it can start offering SHOP insurance to your employees any time of year by completing the enrollment process by the applicable deadline prior to the first day of the month that the employer wants to start offering coverage through the SHOP.

In addition to the option to buy coverage through the SHOP, employers with 25 or fewer employees also may be eligible to use the Small Employer Health Care Credit created by the ACA to help defray the costs of providing this coverage to their qualifying employees.  For instance, Monday, May 15 is the sign up deadline for small employers and nonprofit employees interested in obtaining small group health plan coverage for their employees through the the SHOP Marketplace beginning on June 1. See HealthCare.gov/Small-Business to enroll your small business or non-profit employees or get more details.

While many excellent reasons may exist for a business to offer group health coverage for qualifying employees, all employers regardless of size considering offering group health coverage obtained through the SHOP or other sources should keep in mind that employers that establish and maintain group health coverage, the group health plans they establish and the company or persons with discretionary authority or responsibility for the maintenance, management or administration of these programs or their plans are required to comply with a variety of federal tax, labor and other rules.

Businesses and their owners or management leaders making these decisions should confirm that they fully understand these responsibilities and take appropriate steps to ensure their fulfillment before establishing or maintaining a group health plan to avoid exposing their business, its management or owners or others to unexpected and often substantial liabilities that can result from violation of these requirements.  While small employers plans sometimes qualify for some relief from a few of these requirements, depending on their size,  the majority of these federal rules apply to most if not all group health plans.  Furthermore, businesses sponsoring these programs and their leaders involved in deciding whether and what health coverage to offer for employees and their dependents should not presume that their organization, the resulting plan or its fiduciaries will fulfill these requirements simply by purchasing coverage through the SHOP Marketplace, directly from an insurer, or with the assistance of a broker or consultant.  Fulfillment of applicable requirements generally requires that sponsoring employers and individuals within the management responsible for or appointed to oversee the program to take other steps.  The scope of responsibility and resulting liability to a sponsoring employer and members of its ownership or management also typically are impacted by the plan design and contracts used to establish and maintain the program, its funding, and various other factors.  These factors generally include contractual language in insurance, consulting or brokerage, administrative services and other contracts presented by vendors for use in purchasing and maintaining the program that often shift responsibility for many duties an employer otherwise might assume would be born by the vendor.  For these and other reasons, most businesses and their leadership will want to consider arranging for their proposed program and its associated contracts  and arrangements to be reviewed by legal counsel experienced in group health plan and associated labor, tax and other laws and arrangements.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships.  She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and governmental employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other regulatory and operational risk management.  Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more?  See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.

 

 


Employers Review Health Plans Now To Avoid Excise Taxes & Other Current Law Plan Risks & Ready For Health Reform

April 25, 2017

While Congress and the Trump Administration continue to ponder and debate what if anything to do with the health care reforms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), employer and other health plan sponsors, health plan insurers, plan fiduciaries and others responsible for health plan design, administration or funding must take steps to verify their past and continuing compliance with the ACA and other federal mandates while laying the groundwork to respond quickly to any eventual reforms.

Regardless of what, if anything, the existing Congress or the Trump Administration does to repeal or reform the ACA or other federal health plan rules, all health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should act to mitigate their substantial and ever-growing health plan exposures by arranging for an independent compliance audit of their health plan terms, materials and operations for potential uncorrected past or current violations of the 40 federal mandates covered by the Form 8928 reporting and associated Internal Revenue Code excise tax liability exposure, as well as other applicable plan liabilities under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Social Security Act, the Internal Revenue Code and other federal laws within open statute of limitation periods.

The cost, complexity and riskiness of health plan sponsorship and administration has grown exponentially over the past two decades.  Thanks to the ACA and the continuous stream of other federal laws and regulations implemented over the past 20 years, sponsoring employers, as well as their health plans and those responsible as fiduciaries for administering, funding and insuring these programs now face huge costs, responsibilities and liabilities.  While the ACA substantially expanded the federal health plan mandates and liabilities, the ACA is not the lone cause and its amendment or repeal alone won’t fully resolve these risks prospectively or retrospectively insulate sponsoring employers, their plans or their fiduciaries and insurers from the liabilities and costs of compliance issues occurring before Congress repeals or amends the ACA.

Of particular note for employer and other sponsors of group health plans are the self-reporting and excise tax self-assessment and payment requirements for employers coupled with the companion responsibilities and liabilities fiduciaries, plan administrators and others face under these federal mandates make it important that employers and others sponsoring group health plans and their management or other leaders overseeing or participating in plan design or vendor selection, plan administration or other plan related activities get advice and help from qualified legal counsel experienced in health plan matters:

  • To conduct an independent compliance review and risk assessment of their health plans,
  • To recommend and assist in the performance of recommended steps to correct or mitigate risks from any potential past or existing violations or other exposures that have arisen or are likely to arise from existing contractual, plan design or other health plan actions;
  • To explore the potential advisability of taking additional steps to prevent or mitigate health plan associated compliance or other risks going forward whether or not health reform happens; and
  • To begin preparing to take advantage of any impending health care reforms by evaluating the requirements and procedures that existing plan terms, contracts, vendors and arrangements are likely to require to implement changes necessary to respond to any reforms as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Spring Clean Your Health Plan House

Since any reforms eventually enacted are unlikely to retroactively eliminate liability of employers, their health plans or fiduciaries for violations of federal health plan mandates, health plan terms, or associated contracts occurring before the effective date of reform, employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators should begin by identifying,  cleaning up any existing, unresolved, and preventing any new health plan compliance problems.

While overall compliance with applicable federal mandates and health terms generally should be the goal, employers or others sponsoring group health plans need to be particularly concerned with their responsibilities and potential liability under the Internal Revenue Code to self-identify, report and pay stiff excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation of any of 40 federal health plan mandates imposed by the ACA and various other federal laws when the sponsor files its annual tax return.

This employer or other plan sponsor excise tax liability generally arises in addition to the liabilities that plans, their fiduciaries and their insures face for failing to administer and pay benefits under the plans in accordance with the listed 40 federal mandates, whether actually written into or imputed by operation of law into the plan, the costs of which sponsoring employers often will bear responsibility for funding in whole or in part pursuant to their contractual liabilities under the health plan contracts, as plan fiduciaries or both.  See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs. 

Sponsors and plan fiduciaries also need to be concerned about other risks beyond sponsoring employers’ excise tax liability exposures for sponsoring a non-compliant group health plan.  Among other things, group health plans and their fiduciaries can face audits, litigation and enforcement actions by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other health plans for improperly coordinating plan claims with other coverage as well as lawsuits from covered persons, their health care providers or other beneficiaries, the Department of Labor and CMS, or others seeking to enforce rights to benefits, penalties in the case of CMS or the Department of Labor, and attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement. Beyond benefit litigation, the employer or representatives of the sponsoring employer, if any, named or acting as fiduciaries, insurer or third-party service providers named or acting as fiduciaries, also could face fiduciary lawsuits seeking damages, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs of court, for failing to prudently administer the plan in accordance with its terms and the law brought by covered persons or their beneficiaries or the DOL as well as fiduciary breach penalties if the fiduciary breach action is brought by the DOL. If the plan fails to comply with claims and appeals procedures or other ERISA notification requirements, parties named or functioning as the plan administrator for this purpose also could face penalties of up to $125 per violation per day in the case of enforcement actions brought by participants and beneficiaries or $1025 per violation per day in the case of actions brought by the DOL, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement.  Unless the employer previously took steps to draft its health plan documents and negotiate its vendor contracts to provide otherwise, most vendor provided plans typically assign these liabilities to the sponsoring employer or a member of its management by naming that employer or the management person the “plan administrator” and/or “named fiduciary” responsible for those activities and liabilities, requiring the plan sponsor to indemnify the vendor for costs and liabilities arising from the performance of actions under the plan even when those actions don’t comply with ERISA fiduciary or other legal standards applicable to the performance of those duties under the plan, or both, and other contractual or plan provisions that shift liabilities and costs to the plan sponsor.

To mitigate their exposure to these liabilities and costs, employer or other health plan sponsors should consider arranging for an independent legal compliance and risk assessment of their health plan, its terms, materials and operations to help mitigate the sponsoring employer’s exposure to self-identify, self-report on IRS Form 2848 and pay the $100 per day per violation excise tax liability now generally required under the Internal Revenue Code for any such violation.

Beyond mitigating a plan sponsor’s Form 8928 reporting and associated excise tax exposures,  an independent compliance audit also can mitigate other risks and exposures for the sponsoring employer, the plan and its fiduciaries, the cost of which the sponsoring employer often bears financial responsibility for funding pursuant to the contractual indemnification and funding obligations entered into in connection with the establishment and maintenance of the plan, the fiduciary role, if any, of the employer with respect to the plan, or both.  Accordingly, a timely and appropriate review is likely to help mitigate other risks and liabilities such as:

  • Fiduciary liability that can arising from failing to administer the plan in accordance with these and other federal health plan mandates  under ERISA;
  • Unanticipated benefit costs and liabilities, which for self-insured plans are likely to be particularly burdensome if compliance issues are not identified and corrected before applicable deadlines to pay and submit claims to the stop-loss or other insurer expire (usually at or shortly after the close of a plan year or if earlier, contract termination);
  • Benefit costs and penalties for wrongful coordination of benefits with Medicare, Medicaid, DOD and certain other plans or coverage in violation of Secondary Payer and other mandates; and
  • Costs of defending and settling audits, litigation and other government or participant enforcement actions.

Since  prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate all of these liabilities, business leaders of employers sponsoring health plans should act promptly to engage experienced legal counsel experienced with health plan laws and operations to advise the plan sponsor about how to audit their group health plan’s plan documents, materials and operations for compliance with these and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege while managing tax, financial, benefit and fiduciary liability exposures to deal with potential compliance concerns that the review might discover as well as mitigate risks that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted.

Prepare To Respond To Potential Health Reform & Other Health Plan Improvement

Beyond identifying and addressing existing compliance concerns and other risks associated with prior or existing plan design or administration, most employer and other sponsors also will want to  review the health plan document and materials and associated insurance, third-party administration and other health plan vendor contracts pursuant to which the health plan is established, maintained and administered to identify requirements and opportunities to respond quickly to make changes when and if health care reform happens as well as for other opportunities to mitigate existing risks and costs.

As most commentators expect some type of regulatory or statutory health plan relief to result from the current health care reform debates in Congress, employer and other health plan sponsors desiring to accelerate their ability to take advantage of any forthcoming relief should familiarize themselves with the procedures required under existing plan terms, contracts and rules to modify their programs in response to these changes.  Almost certainly, plan sponsors should anticipate needing to adopt some amendments to plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other materials to take advantage of any legislative or statutory relief.  Plan sponsors also need to keep in mind that their vendor contracts with administrators, group, stop-loss or captive insurers, and other vendors likely also will require the plan sponsor to notify and negotiate with its vendors to secure their agreement before adopting these changes to avoid violating those vendor agreements and prudently to arrange for appropriate implementation and administration of the modified plan design and terms.  Identification of the contractual and plan requirements and commencement of discussions with the relevant vendors can help expedite the planning and implementation of any desired plan modifications the plan sponsor elects to make in response to any statutory or regulatory reforms.

While preparing for anticipated health care reforms, most plan sponsors also will want to review their plans and vendor contracts for other potential opportunities to mitigate risks or expenses.  With respect to existing and future liability mitigation, each plan sponsor generally should carefully assess the allocation of fiduciary responsibility and liability between the sponsoring employer, members of its management or other workforce team, and vendors to identify potential areas where the contract may assign named or other plan administrator or other fiduciary status and liability to the plan sponsor or a member of its workforce for duties outsourced to a vendor.   Sponsoring employers or their management may want to initiate negotiations with the vendor to reallocate the fiduciary role and responsibility to the party responsible for performance of the specific duties, enhancement of performance guarantees, indemnifications and insurance coverage for proper performance of the outsourced duties by the vendor in accordance with the plan terms, including any mandates imposed by the ACA and other federal laws in form and operation, and other safeguards or, if the vendor is unwilling to consider these changes, begin searching for a replacement vendor willing to provide better accountability for its actions with respect to the services it is hired to perform.

Except in rare circumstances where the sponsoring employer has carefully contracted to transfer fiduciary liability to its insurer or administrator and otherwise does not exercise or have a fiduciary obligation to exercise discretion or control over these responsibilities, employers sponsoring group health plans that violate federal mandates like the out-of-pocket limit often ultimately bear some or all of these liabilities even if the violation actually was committed by a plan vendor hired to administer the program either because the plan documents name the employer as the “named fiduciary” or “plan administrator” under ERISA, the employer or a member of its management named in the plan generally bears fiduciary responsibility functionally for selection or oversight of the culpable party, the employer signed a contract, resolution or plan document obligating the employer to indemnify the service provider for the liability, or a combination of these reasons.

Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate all of these liabilities as well as help to preserve access to stop-loss or other reinsurance coverage, if any, applicable to help pay for some or all of any additional benefit liabilities resulting from these benefit mandates, business leaders of companies offering group health plan coverage should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s compliance with these and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege while managing tax, financial, benefit and fiduciary liability exposures to deal with potential compliance concerns that the review might discover as well as mitigate risks that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted.

While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help identifying potential plan design, contracting, procedural or other changes that may be needed to fix compliance deficiencies and mitigate other risks, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health and othre employee benefit, financial services, health care and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Throughout her career, she has helped a diverse array of clients manage, administer and defend employee and other workforce, vendors and suppliers, their recruitment, selection, performance management, contracting, investigation, discipline and termination; health and other employee benefits; compensation;  safety; governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; trade secret and other privacy, data security and data breach;; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting relations, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

The American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with employers, health and other employee benefit plans, insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, health care providers, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional and trade associations, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on benefit and insurance program legal and operational compliance, risk management,  public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers, managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers. Her experience includes both leading edge work designing and administering programs, as well as defending clients in connection with audits and enforcement actions by OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC, OSHA, Department of Insurance, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigation, enforcement including insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns. Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

A lead policy advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privitization project and involved in U.S. federal and state as well as cross border workforce, pension, health care, Social Security, immigration, and tax regulatory and statutory reform throughout her adult life, Ms. Stamer also is widely sought out for her thoughtleadership and assistance with domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer here.

 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements

April 24, 2017

Health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors, health insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities”) and their business associates must get and keep your business associate (BA) agreements (BAAs) in place, up-to-date, and readily available for inspection in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, 45 C.F.R. Part 160 and Subparts A and E of Part 164 (Privacy Rule).  That’s the clear message to covered entities and their business associates in the April 17, 2017 HIPAA Resolution Agreement just announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) with the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH).

While the Resolution Agreement relates to breaches of the BAA requirements of a small pediatric practice, all health plans, health care providers and other covered entities and business associates should focus on the adequacy of their BAAs  and their BAA record keeping.  HIPAA compliance surveys reflect deficiencies with the BAA rules are common throughout the industry.  These findings and the involvement of BAs in data breaches or other OCR enforcement activities suggest a high probability that many other covered entities and business associates may be sitting ducks for similar sanctions.  See e.g., HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  Consequently, all covered entities and business associates generally should treat the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a message to review and correct as necessary their organizations’ compliance and recordkeeping to minimize their exposure to potential sanctions from violations of the HIPAA business associate rules.

The HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Requirements

OCR’s announcement of the CCDH Resolution Agreement is the latest in a growing series of HIPAA enforcement actions showing the growing risk covered entities and their business associates face for failing to take appropriate steps to comply with the BAA and other Privacy Rule requirements of HIPAA.

As compliance audits and surveys of covered entities and business associates suggest a high level of noncompliance with the business associate agreement requirements among covered entities and business associates, While the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements and Civil Monetary Penalties announced by OCR cover a variety of categories of HIPAA violations, the CCDH Resolution Agreement highlights the importance of covered entities and their business associates ensuring that before the BA creates, accesses, receives, discloses, retains or destroys any PHI for the covered entity,  a BAA meeting the Privacy Rule requirements is signed and retained for at least the six-year period the Privacy Rule requires in a manner easily producible when and if OCR or another agency asks for a copy as part of an investigation or other compliance audit.  See Privacy Rule §§ 164.502(e), 164.504(e), 164.532(d) and (e).

The Privacy Rule requires that covered entities and business associates enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the covered entity. Meanwhile, the Privacy Rule recordkeeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil or even criminal penalties  Pursuant to amendments to HIPAA enacted as part of the HITECH Act, civil penalties typically do not apply to violations punished under the criminal penalty rules of HIPAA set forth in Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C § 1320d-6 (Section 1177).

Under Section 1177, the criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

  • A fine of up to $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;
  • If the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; and
  • If the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine of up to $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

In contrast, as amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both covered entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016,  the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

  • A minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations which the CE or BA “did not know, and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known” about using “the business care and prudence expected from a person seeking to satisfy a legal requirement under similar circumstances;”
  • A minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations for “reasonable cause” which do not rise to the level of “willful neglect” where “reasonable cause” means the “circumstances that would make it unreasonable for the covered entity, despite the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence, to comply with the violated Privacy Rule requirement;”
  • A minimum penalty of $10,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect,” defined as “the conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference to the obligation to comply” with the requirement or prohibition; and
  • A minimum penalty of $50,000 and a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect” not remedied within 30 days of the date that the covered entity or BA knew or should have known of the violation.

For continuing violations such as failing to implement a required BAA, OCR can treat each day  of noncompliance as a separate violation.  However, sanctions under each of these tiers generally are subject to a maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for violations of identical requirements or prohibitions during a calendar year.  For violations such as the failure to implement and maintain a required BAA where more than one covered entity bears responsibility for the violation, OCR an impose Civil Monetary Penalties against each culpable party. OCR considers a variety of mitigating and aggravating facts and circumstances when arriving at the amount of the penalty within each of these applicable tiers to impose.

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare, a review of the OCR enforcement record in recent years makes clear that civil enforcement of HIPAA and the sanctions imposed is growing. See e.g.,  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

CCDH Sanctions For Violation Of HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Rules

The CCDH Resolution Agreement arises from violations of this requirement that OCR says it discovered as a result of a compliance review conducted in response to an OCR investigation of a CCDH business associate, FileFax, Inc.  According to OCR, OCR found from the compliance review of CCDH triggered by OCR’s investigation of FileFax that while CCDH began disclosing PHI to Filefax in 2003 and that Filefax stored records containing protected health information (PHI) for CCDH, neither CCDH nor Filefax could produce a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) covering their relationship for any period before October 12, 2015.

Based on the resulting investigation,  OCR concluded:

  • CCDH failed to obtain a BAA providing written assurances from Filefax that it would appropriately safeguard the PHI in Filefax’s possession or control satisfactory assurances as required by Privacy Rule §164.502(e); and
  • Because CCDH failed to secure the required BAA, it violated the Privacy Rule by impermissibly disclosing the PHI of at least 10,728 individuals to Filefax when CCDH transferred the PHI to Filefax without obtaining the requisite BAA from Filefax (Covered Conduct).

In the Resolution Agreement, CCDH agrees to pay HHS $31,000.00 (Resolution Amount) and enter into and comply with a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in return for OCR’s release of CCDH from liability for “any actions it may have against CCDH under the HIPAA Rules” for the Covered Conduct.  The Resolution Agreement only settles the civil monetary penalty and other OCR enforcement liabilities of CCDH with respect to the Covered Conduct.  Its provisions expressly state the Resolution Agreement does not affect any exposures of CCDH to CCDH to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for any HIPAA violations other than the Covered Conduct.

Perhaps even more noteworthy given the HITECH Act’s provisions coordinating the civil and criminal sanctions of HIPAA, while  the Resolution Agreement provides no clear indication that the Justice Department might be considering criminally prosecuting CCDH or any other party in relation to the Covered Conduct, the Resolution Agreement also expressly states that its provisions do not affect CCDH’s potential exposure, if any, to criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for a criminal violation of the Privacy Rules under Section 1177 of the Social Security Act.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

Covered entities and their business associates should heed the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a strong message from OCR to ensure their organizations are complying with HIPAA’s BAA and other requirements.  The Resolution Agreement makes clear that the starting point of this compliance effort must be obtaining and maintaining the requisite BAAs for each BA relationship.

To position their organizations to withstand potential investigation by OCR, covered entities and BAs should start by conducting a well-documented audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege both to verify that an appropriate, signed BAA is in place for each BA relationship as well as adequacy of processes for identifying business associate relationships, ensuring that signed BAAs are in effect before BAs access any PHI, and for investigating, reporting and resolving any breaches of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rules that may arise in the course of operations.

Conducting this audit as soon as possible is particularly important in light of reported findings of widespread compliance concerns. See HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  As the audit process could identify potential violations or other legally sensitive concerns,  covered entities and business associates generally will want to arrange for this audit and evaluation to be conducted under the supervision of legal counsel experienced with HIPAA within or pursuant to processes structured with the assistance of legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

Beyond confirming all necessary BAAs are in place, covered entities and business associates also generally will want to evaluate the adequacy of BAs’ processes and procedures for maintaining compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules as well as processes and procedures for responding to audits, investigations and complaints, reporting and addressing breaches of electronic and other PHI and other possible compliance concerns under HIPAA and other related laws.  In many instances, parties may n wish to revise and strengthen existing BAAs to more specifically define these policies and procedures more specifically as well as indemnification, cyber or other liability coverage requirements and other contractual provisions for allocating potential costs and liabilities arising from breaches, audits, investigations and other expenses associated with the administration of these provisions.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

As a core component of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans and insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional associations, medical staffs, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational compliance, risk management and compliance, public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending public and private hospitals and health care systems; physicians, physician organizations and medical staffs; specialty clinics and pharmacies; skilled nursing, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing and management services organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry clients to manage and defend compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing and other operations and risk management concerns. A core focus of this work includes work to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; dealings with JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; investigation and defense of private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development; managed care, physician and other staffing, business associate and other contracting; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated extensive experience helping health industry clients manage workforce, medical staff, vendors and suppliers, medical billing, reimbursement, claims and other provider-payer relations, business partners, and their recruitment, performance, discipline, compliance, safety, compensation, benefits, and training, board, medical staff and other governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; assess, deter, investigate and address staffing, quality, compliance and other performance; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other data security and breach and other health IT and data; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other laws.

The American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with a diverse range of physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems, DME, Pharma, clinics, health care providers, managed care, insurance and other health care payers, quality assurance, credentialing, technical, research, public and private social and community organizations, and other health industry organizations and their management deal with governance; credentialing, patient relations and care; staffing, peer review, human resources and workforce performance management; outsourcing; internal controls and regulatory compliance; billing and reimbursement; physician, employment, vendor, managed care, government and other contracting; business transactions; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; licensure and accreditation; vendor selection and management; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy and other concerns.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar, insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.

Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, MGMA, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer here.


Consider Access In Prudent Investment Broker Selection

April 19, 2017

https://videopress.com/embed/3futNZyv?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0
If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.©2017. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


Health Reform:  Tell Congress Until It Listens

April 19, 2017

https://videopress.com/embed/MqUiaSs1?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

©2017. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.



Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements

April 24, 2017

Health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors, health insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities”) and their business associates must get and keep your business associate (BA) agreements (BAAs) in place, up-to-date, and readily available for inspection in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, 45 C.F.R. Part 160 and Subparts A and E of Part 164 (Privacy Rule).  That’s the clear message to covered entities and their business associates in the April 17, 2017 HIPAA Resolution Agreement just announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) with the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH).

While the Resolution Agreement relates to breaches of the BAA requirements of a small pediatric practice, all health plans, health care providers and other covered entities and business associates should focus on the adequacy of their BAAs  and their BAA record keeping.  HIPAA compliance surveys reflect deficiencies with the BAA rules are common throughout the industry.  These findings and the involvement of BAs in data breaches or other OCR enforcement activities suggest a high probability that many other covered entities and business associates may be sitting ducks for similar sanctions.  See e.g., HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  Consequently, all covered entities and business associates generally should treat the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a message to review and correct as necessary their organizations’ compliance and recordkeeping to minimize their exposure to potential sanctions from violations of the HIPAA business associate rules.

The HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Requirements

OCR’s announcement of the CCDH Resolution Agreement is the latest in a growing series of HIPAA enforcement actions showing the growing risk covered entities and their business associates face for failing to take appropriate steps to comply with the BAA and other Privacy Rule requirements of HIPAA.

As compliance audits and surveys of covered entities and business associates suggest a high level of noncompliance with the business associate agreement requirements among covered entities and business associates, While the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements and Civil Monetary Penalties announced by OCR cover a variety of categories of HIPAA violations, the CCDH Resolution Agreement highlights the importance of covered entities and their business associates ensuring that before the BA creates, accesses, receives, discloses, retains or destroys any PHI for the covered entity,  a BAA meeting the Privacy Rule requirements is signed and retained for at least the six-year period the Privacy Rule requires in a manner easily producible when and if OCR or another agency asks for a copy as part of an investigation or other compliance audit.  See Privacy Rule §§ 164.502(e), 164.504(e), 164.532(d) and (e).

The Privacy Rule requires that covered entities and business associates enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the covered entity. Meanwhile, the Privacy Rule recordkeeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil or even criminal penalties  Pursuant to amendments to HIPAA enacted as part of the HITECH Act, civil penalties typically do not apply to violations punished under the criminal penalty rules of HIPAA set forth in Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C § 1320d-6 (Section 1177).

Under Section 1177, the criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

  • A fine of up to $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;
  • If the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; and
  • If the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine of up to $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

In contrast, as amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both covered entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016,  the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

  • A minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations which the CE or BA “did not know, and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known” about using “the business care and prudence expected from a person seeking to satisfy a legal requirement under similar circumstances;”
  • A minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations for “reasonable cause” which do not rise to the level of “willful neglect” where “reasonable cause” means the “circumstances that would make it unreasonable for the covered entity, despite the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence, to comply with the violated Privacy Rule requirement;”
  • A minimum penalty of $10,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect,” defined as “the conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference to the obligation to comply” with the requirement or prohibition; and
  • A minimum penalty of $50,000 and a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect” not remedied within 30 days of the date that the covered entity or BA knew or should have known of the violation.

For continuing violations such as failing to implement a required BAA, OCR can treat each day  of noncompliance as a separate violation.  However, sanctions under each of these tiers generally are subject to a maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for violations of identical requirements or prohibitions during a calendar year.  For violations such as the failure to implement and maintain a required BAA where more than one covered entity bears responsibility for the violation, OCR an impose Civil Monetary Penalties against each culpable party. OCR considers a variety of mitigating and aggravating facts and circumstances when arriving at the amount of the penalty within each of these applicable tiers to impose.

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare, a review of the OCR enforcement record in recent years makes clear that civil enforcement of HIPAA and the sanctions imposed is growing. See e.g.,  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

CCDH Sanctions For Violation Of HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Rules

The CCDH Resolution Agreement arises from violations of this requirement that OCR says it discovered as a result of a compliance review conducted in response to an OCR investigation of a CCDH business associate, FileFax, Inc.  According to OCR, OCR found from the compliance review of CCDH triggered by OCR’s investigation of FileFax that while CCDH began disclosing PHI to Filefax in 2003 and that Filefax stored records containing protected health information (PHI) for CCDH, neither CCDH nor Filefax could produce a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) covering their relationship for any period before October 12, 2015.

Based on the resulting investigation,  OCR concluded:

  • CCDH failed to obtain a BAA providing written assurances from Filefax that it would appropriately safeguard the PHI in Filefax’s possession or control satisfactory assurances as required by Privacy Rule §164.502(e); and
  • Because CCDH failed to secure the required BAA, it violated the Privacy Rule by impermissibly disclosing the PHI of at least 10,728 individuals to Filefax when CCDH transferred the PHI to Filefax without obtaining the requisite BAA from Filefax (Covered Conduct).

In the Resolution Agreement, CCDH agrees to pay HHS $31,000.00 (Resolution Amount) and enter into and comply with a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in return for OCR’s release of CCDH from liability for “any actions it may have against CCDH under the HIPAA Rules” for the Covered Conduct.  The Resolution Agreement only settles the civil monetary penalty and other OCR enforcement liabilities of CCDH with respect to the Covered Conduct.  Its provisions expressly state the Resolution Agreement does not affect any exposures of CCDH to CCDH to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for any HIPAA violations other than the Covered Conduct.

Perhaps even more noteworthy given the HITECH Act’s provisions coordinating the civil and criminal sanctions of HIPAA, while  the Resolution Agreement provides no clear indication that the Justice Department might be considering criminally prosecuting CCDH or any other party in relation to the Covered Conduct, the Resolution Agreement also expressly states that its provisions do not affect CCDH’s potential exposure, if any, to criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for a criminal violation of the Privacy Rules under Section 1177 of the Social Security Act.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

Covered entities and their business associates should heed the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a strong message from OCR to ensure their organizations are complying with HIPAA’s BAA and other requirements.  The Resolution Agreement makes clear that the starting point of this compliance effort must be obtaining and maintaining the requisite BAAs for each BA relationship.

To position their organizations to withstand potential investigation by OCR, covered entities and BAs should start by conducting a well-documented audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege both to verify that an appropriate, signed BAA is in place for each BA relationship as well as adequacy of processes for identifying business associate relationships, ensuring that signed BAAs are in effect before BAs access any PHI, and for investigating, reporting and resolving any breaches of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rules that may arise in the course of operations.

Conducting this audit as soon as possible is particularly important in light of reported findings of widespread compliance concerns. See HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  As the audit process could identify potential violations or other legally sensitive concerns,  covered entities and business associates generally will want to arrange for this audit and evaluation to be conducted under the supervision of legal counsel experienced with HIPAA within or pursuant to processes structured with the assistance of legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

Beyond confirming all necessary BAAs are in place, covered entities and business associates also generally will want to evaluate the adequacy of BAs’ processes and procedures for maintaining compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules as well as processes and procedures for responding to audits, investigations and complaints, reporting and addressing breaches of electronic and other PHI and other possible compliance concerns under HIPAA and other related laws.  In many instances, parties may n wish to revise and strengthen existing BAAs to more specifically define these policies and procedures more specifically as well as indemnification, cyber or other liability coverage requirements and other contractual provisions for allocating potential costs and liabilities arising from breaches, audits, investigations and other expenses associated with the administration of these provisions.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

As a core component of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans and insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional associations, medical staffs, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational compliance, risk management and compliance, public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending public and private hospitals and health care systems; physicians, physician organizations and medical staffs; specialty clinics and pharmacies; skilled nursing, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing and management services organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry clients to manage and defend compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing and other operations and risk management concerns. A core focus of this work includes work to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; dealings with JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; investigation and defense of private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development; managed care, physician and other staffing, business associate and other contracting; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated extensive experience helping health industry clients manage workforce, medical staff, vendors and suppliers, medical billing, reimbursement, claims and other provider-payer relations, business partners, and their recruitment, performance, discipline, compliance, safety, compensation, benefits, and training, board, medical staff and other governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; assess, deter, investigate and address staffing, quality, compliance and other performance; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other data security and breach and other health IT and data; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other laws.

The American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with a diverse range of physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems, DME, Pharma, clinics, health care providers, managed care, insurance and other health care payers, quality assurance, credentialing, technical, research, public and private social and community organizations, and other health industry organizations and their management deal with governance; credentialing, patient relations and care; staffing, peer review, human resources and workforce performance management; outsourcing; internal controls and regulatory compliance; billing and reimbursement; physician, employment, vendor, managed care, government and other contracting; business transactions; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; licensure and accreditation; vendor selection and management; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy and other concerns.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar, insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.

Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, MGMA, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer here.


ACA-ERISA Lawsuit Risks Likely To Continue Until Congress Acts Despite Trump Executive Order For Agencies To Issue Relief

January 23, 2017

Employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and insurers generally should be prepared to prove that they are maintaining and administering their health plans to comply with many Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates pending Congressional repeal or reform of the ACA, despite President Trump’s January 20, 2017 Executive Order on “Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” (Executive Order) because the Federal agencies responsible for the implementation and interpretation of the ACA generally don’t have authority to bar health plan participants and beneficiaries from bringing benefit denial or breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits against health plans or fiduciaries for violating ACA mandates incorporated into the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In addition to affirming President Trump’s commitment to seek the prompt repeal of the ACA, the Executive Order seeks to mitigate the burden of the ACA pending Congressional repeal by ordering  the Departments Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL), Treasury (Treasury)  and other agencies with ACA authority (Agencies) to exercise all available authority and discretion to the “maximum extent permitted by law:”

  • To waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the ACA that would impose a “cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”
  • To provide greater flexibility to States and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs and to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State;
  • For departments and agencies with responsibilities relating to healthcare or health insurance to encourage the development of a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance, with the goal of achieving and preserving maximum options for patients and consumers.

While applicable Agencies are expected to act as quickly as possible to comply with President Trump’s orders, various statutory and procedural requirements almost certainly will limit both the relief granted and the speed with which the Agencies can grant the relief.  One obvious place where statutory limitations on Agencies authority almost certainly will impact the availability of relief arises from the ACA’s incorporation of many of its patient protection act group mandates into ERISA. While the Agencies may possess the authority to lessen the burden of compliance with the regulatory mandates of the ACA by revising regulations, issuing enforcement relief or other certain other actions, these powers do not extend to blocking the authority of participants and beneficiaries to bring suit to enforce the provision of the ACA that the ACA added to ERISA through private benefit denial or breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits brought under ERISA.

In the case of insured health plans, sponsors, insurers and administrators also will need to consider whether their ability to take advantage of the federal relieve available is blocked or restricted by state insurance statutes, regulations or other administrative requirements.  The likelihood of state statutory or regulatory restrictions on insured arrangements is particularly likely because of the heavy regulation of these products by states including the widespread incorporation of ACA mandates into state insurance laws and regulations in response to the Market Reform provisions of the ACA.

Even if these federal requirements are met to qualify for, adopt and implement any federally issued regulatory relief, employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators also should plan for and be prepared to run the necessary traps to properly amend their plan document, summary plan description and other plan notifications, administrative services agreements, stop loss or other insurance contracts and other vendor agreements to implement their desired changes.  Beyond knowing what has to be done to adopt and communicate the desired changes, employer and other sponsors and fiduciaries, their consultants, brokers and advisors need to consider the requirements and consequences that the planned changes might have under applicable plan documents and vendor agreements to avoid unanticipated costs or liabilities as well as what actions are needed to ensure that ERISA’s prudence and other fiduciary requirements are met.

Until these and other required actions are completed by the Agencies and the applicable plan sponsors, fiduciaries and other parties, employers and other plan sponsors, their management, their health plans, health plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally obligated to continue to comply with the ACA as presently implemented under the existing regulations and judicial and administrative rulings.

Responsible parties should begin preparing to take advantage of the anticipated legislative and regulatory relief both by both carefully monitoring statutory and regulatory health plan developments and positioning themselves to act quickly when relief comes by evaluating their existing heath plan documents, contracts, communications and systems to verify existing compliance and determine requirements for implementing any planned changes, opening up discussion vendors about these possibilities and taking other steps to position themselves to act knowledgeably and efficiently to take advantage of new opportunities if and when they emerge and are warranted.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com   or contact Ms. Stamer via email here  or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please provide your current contact information and preferences including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission.  The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues.  Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


CMS Alert Warns Worker’s Comp & Other Liability Payers To Comply With Medicare Benefit Coordination Rules 

December 4, 2016

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible  for protecting the Medicare program’s fiscal integrity and ensuring that it pays only for those services that are its responsibility. Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) provisions make Medicare a secondary payer to certain non-group health plans (NGHPs), which include liability insurers (including self-insured entities), no-fault insurers, and workers’ compensation entities. CMS has the right to recover Medicare payments made that should have been the responsibility of another payer.

MSP situations involving NGHPs are triggered by unexpected incidents, such as car accidents or work-related injuries, involve Medicare beneficiaries, and result in medical expenses for which an NGHP (rather than Medicare) has primary responsibility for payment. In these situations, Medicare becomes a secondary payer. In some MSP situations involving NGHPs, Medicare will initially pay for related medical expenses in order to ensure that the beneficiary has timely access to needed care and later seek to recover those payments.

The CMS Benefits Coordination & Recovery Center (BCRC) seeks repayment  for any conditional payments it makes related to a liability, no-fault, or workers’ compensation case. A conditional payment is a payment Medicare makes for services another payer may be responsible for. The payment is “conditional” because it must be repaid to Medicare when a beneficiary receives a settlement, judgment, award, or other payment from an NGHP.

When the BCRC learns of an NGHP case, it gathers information about any related conditional payments Medicare made and request repayment. 

A beneficiary or beneficiary’s attorney or other representative may contact the BCRC for any of the following questions/issues:
Questions about Medicare’s recovery rights or the reimbursement process

To obtain conditional payment amounts

To obtain Medicare’s final recovery claim amount

Questions regarding MSP recovery demand letters

Questions with respect to a “Notice of Intent to Refer Debt to the Department of Treasury” letter

Questions regarding repaying Medicare

To request a waiver of recovery with respect to a beneficiary MSP debt. (Note: A waiver of recovery request cannot be accepted or processed until a recovery demand letter is issued.)

To request a first level appeal with respect to the determination contained in a beneficiary MSP recovery demand letter or a determination made on a waiver of recovery request from a beneficiary

Please see the Contacts page for specific contact phone numbers and mailing address information.
Commercial Repayment Center (CRC) Responsibilities  
Effective October 5, 2015, the Commercial Repayment Center (CRC) assumed responsibility for the recovery of conditional payments where an insurer/workers’ compensation entity is the identified debtor. Any NGHP recoveries initiated by the BCRC prior to the October 2015 transition will continue to be the responsibility of the BCRC. To view the process of recovering conditional payments from an insurer/workers’ compensation entity, click the Insurer NGHP Recovery link.
When to Contact the CRC
Insurer/workers’ compensation entities should review their recovery letter for a return address or closing referencing the BCRC or CRC. If the CRC sent the letter, contact the CRC. However, if the BCRC sent the letter, contact the BCRC. The insurer/workers’ compensation entity may contact the BCRC or the CRC, depending on who sent their recovery letter, for any of the following questions/issues:
Questions about Medicare’s recovery rights or the reimbursement process

Questions regarding Conditional Payment Letters/Conditional Payment Notices

Questions regarding MSP recovery demand letters

Questions with respect to a “Notice of Intent to Refer Debt to the Department of Treasury” letter

Questions regarding repaying Medicare

To request a first level appeal with respect to the determination contained in an MSP recovery demand letter

Please see the Contacts page for specific contact phone numbers and mailing address information.
Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal (MSPRP)
The MSPRP is a web-based tool designed to assist in the resolution of liability insurance, no-fault insurance, and workers’ compensation Medicare recovery cases. The MSPRP gives users (attorneys, insurers, beneficiaries, and recovery agents) the ability to access and update certain case specific information online and monitor the recovery process online. For additional information regarding the MSPRP, click the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal link.
Note: NGHP Recovery related materials previously available as downloads on this page have been moved to the Beneficiary or Insurer Services sections of CMS.gov, as applicable. Click the Medicare’s Recovery Process link to access downloads pertinent to the beneficiary. Downloads pertaining to the insurer/workers’ compensation entity may be accessed by clicking the Insurer NGHP Recovery link.


Health Plans, Other Covered Entities Have Continuing Duty To Reevaluate HIPAA Enterprise Risk To PHI & Address Security Risks & Other Compliance Concern On Ongoing Basis

October 27, 2016

Compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a living process that requires employer and other health plans, health insurers, health care providers and healthcare clearinghouses to recurrently reevaluate their HIPAA enterprise risk and timely act to mitigate security threats to electronic (ePHI) and other  protected health information and other HIPAA compliance concerns on an ongoing basis.  That’s the clear take away applicable to all HIPAA-Covered Entities and business associates from the St. Joseph Health Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (SJH Settlement) and the Oregon Health & Science University Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (OHSU Settlement) announced by the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR)  in the past 30 days.  Health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and vendors, health care providers and health care clearinghouses should carefully heed this message and in response take documented steps to ensure

  • Their existing policies, practices and procedures properly are updated in response to changing guidance and events;
  • They in place the current, comprehensive enterprise risk assessment along with a mitigation plan documenting actions taken to address these risks;
  • Ensure that the organization has and is administering appropriate, documented processes and procedures to ensure that the organization reassesses its enterprise risk assessment and compliance on a timely basis as warranted by changes or other events that could impact ePHI, regulatory developments or other events that might impact its compliance; and
  • Have an appropriate, documented process for oversight by C-level management.

OHSU Charges & Settlement

The OHSU Settlement Agreement announced by OCR on September 23, 2016 requires OHSU to pay a $2.7 million settlement payment and adopt and implement a comprehensive three-year corrective action plan to address “widespread and diverse” HIPAA compliance problems OCR reports uncovering while investigating multiple HIPAA breach reports the large public academic health center and research university centered in Portland, Oregon.

OCR began investigating OHSU after the large public academic health center and research university centered in Portland, Oregon, submitted three HIPAA breach reports affecting thousands of individuals, including two reports involving unencrypted laptops and another large breach involving a stolen unencrypted thumb drive:

  • On March 23, 2013, HHS received notification from OHSU regarding a breach of its unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) resulting from a stolen laptop computer;
  • On July 28, 2013, HHS received notification from OHSU regarding a breach of its ePHI resulting from storing ePHI at an internet-based service provider without a business associate agreement; and.

These incidents each garnered significant local and national press coverage. OCR’s investigation uncovered evidence of widespread vulnerabilities within OHSU’s HIPAA compliance program, including the storage of the ePHI of more than 3,000 individuals on a cloud-based server without a business associate agreement.  OCR found significant risk of harm to 1,361 of these individuals due to the sensitive nature of their diagnoses.

OCR’s investigation showed the reported breaches resulted from widespread, long-term, systematic and unresolved HIPAA violations by OHSU that OCR attributed to an inadequate commitment to and oversight of HIPAA compliance by OHSU C-level management which resulted in the failure by OHSU to appropriately monitor the adequacy of its ongoing compliance and to assess and address changes in its enterprise-wide risk and compliance obligations on an ongoing basis. OHSU performed risk analyses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013, but OCR’s investigation found that these analyses did not cover all ePHI in OHSU’s enterprise, as required by the Security Rule.  While the analyses identified vulnerabilities and risks to ePHI located in many areas of the organization, OHSU did not act in a timely manner to implement measures to address these documented risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level. OHSU also lacked policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations and failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure for ePHI maintained on its workstations, despite having identified this lack of encryption as a risk.

OCR concluded that the reported breaches were the result of long-standing, systematic deficiences in OHSU’s  processes and procedures for HIPAA compliance, including the following:

  • While OHSU reportedly performed risk analyses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013, OCR says its investigation found that these analyses did not cover all ePHI in OHSU’s enterprise, as required by the Security Rule;
  • While the analyses identified vulnerabilities and risks to ePHI located in many areas of the organization, OHSU did not act in a timely manner to implement measures to address these documented risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level;
  • OHSU also lacked policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations and failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure for ePHI maintained on its workstations, despite having identified this lack of encryption as a risk;
  • OHSU failed to comply with its duty under HIPAA to enter into a business associate agreement with a vendor before allowing a vendor business associate to store ePHI; and
  • The absence of meaningful C-suite leadership oversight and commitment to HIPAA compliance.

Based on these investigations, OCR concluded that while OHSU initially adopted HIPAA Policies, the reported breaches were the result of a series of widespread and ongoing breaches of HIPAA resulted including the following:

  • From January 5, 2011, until July 3, 2013, OHSU disclosed the ePHI of 3,044 individuals in violation of Privacy Rules §§160.103 and 164.502(a) when workforce members disclosed the ePHI to a third party internet-based service provider without obtaining a business associate agreement or other satisfactory assurance that the internet-based service provider would safeguard the ePHI;
  • From January 5, 2011 until July 3, 2013 OHSU failed to obtain a business associate agreement from an internet-based service provider that was storing ePHI on its behalf as a business associate as required by 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(b);
  • From January 5, 2011 until July 3, 2013 OHSU failed to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations as required under Privacy Rule § 164.308(a)(1)(i);
  • From July 12, 2010 to present, OHSU failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure for all ePHI maintained in OHSU’s enterprise as required by Privacy Rules §§ 164.312(a)(2)(iv) and 164.306(d)(3)); and
  • From May 29, 2013 until July 3, 2013, OHSU failed to implement policies and procedures to address security incidents in violation of Privacy Rule § 164.308(a)(6)(i).

According to statements made by OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels in OCR’s announcement of the OHSU Settlement, the breaches should not have happened.  “From well-publicized large scale breaches and findings in their own risk analyses, OHSU had every opportunity to address security management processes that were insufficient,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels.  OCR’s announcement also signals that OCR views inadequate commitment and oversight by OHSU’s senior management to have played a key role in the creation and perpetuation of the OHSU violations.  It quotes OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels  as stating,  “This settlement underscores the importance of leadership engagement and why it is so critical for the C-suite to take HIPAA compliance seriously.”

OCR’s announcement of the OHSU Settlement emphasizes its determination that a lack of commitment and oversight by C-level management resulted in the failure by OHSU to periodically perform a comprehensive enterprise risk analysis and to reevaluate and update that analysis and its policies, practices, procedures and training as warranted by changing events and guidance.

To resolve the HIPAA charges, the OHSU Settlement requires OHSU to pay OCR $2,700,000 as well as take a long series of corrective actions detailed in the Corrective Action Plan incorporated into the Settlement Agreement.  The requirements of the Corrective Action Plan both seek to address the specific weaknesses that lead to the breaches of unsecured ePHI reported by OHSU in its breach notifications as well as the broader deficiencies in OHSU’s overall HIPAA compliance practice by requiring among other things that OHSU:

  • Conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI at all OHSU facilities and on all systems, networks, and devices that create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI;.
  • Develop and present to OCR for approval a comprehensive written risk management plan that explains OHSU’s strategy for implementing security measures sufficient to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities identified in the risk analysis to a reasonable and appropriate level based on OHSU’s circumstances as well as a comprehensive, enterprise-wide plan to implement effective oversight of OHSU workforce members to ensure their adherence to HIPAA Rules and OHSU’s internal privacy and security policies and procedures with specific timelines for their expected completion and compensating controls identified in the interim to safeguard OHSU’s ePHI;
  • Implement and administer the written risk management plan and other safeguards as approved by OCR;
  • Provide updates to OCR about OHSU’s implementation of required encryption including a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution that ensures all OHSU- owned and personally-owned mobile devices (tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices) that access ePHI on OHSU’s secure network are encrypted other than mobile devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions based on documented evidence of the implementation of alternative reasonable compensating controls to protect the ePHI on such devices;
  • Report to OCR on OHSU’s efforts to a solution to enforce encryption of ePHI on OHSU-owned and personally- owned devices (laptops, desktops, and medical equipment) connecting to OHSU’s secure wired and wireless networks except for any devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions to the encryption requirement;
  • Report to OCR about its implementation of policies that prohibit the transfer of data containing ePHI from OHSU-owned and personally-owned devices to unencrypted removable storage devices (USB drives and portable hard drives) and implementation of a technical solution that enforces the policies prohibiting transfers of this type when attached to the OHSU secure network, except for any removable storage devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions based on documented evidence of reasonable compensating controls that have been implemented to protect the ePHI on such devices;
  • Send a communication to all members of the OHSU community describing its commitment to enterprise encryption;
  • Prepare to the satisfaction of OCR security awareness training materials needed to implement its security management processing including specific privacy and security awareness related to a) use of internet-based information storage services; b) disclosures to third party entities that require a business associate agreement or other reasonable assurance in place to ensure that the business associate will safeguard the protected health information (PHI) and/or ePHI; c) regarding managers, effective oversight of workforce members’ uses and disclosures of PHI, including ePHI, to ensure the workforce members’ compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules and OHSU’s internal policies and procedures; d) security incident reporting; and e) password management;
  • Initially train all workforce members with access to PHI and/or ePHI with 120 days of OCR’s approval of the training and thereafter ensure that new workforce members are trained with 15 days of hire and that all workforce members subsequently continue to receive training on an on-going basis;
  • Review the security awareness training materials annually, and, where appropriate, update the training to reflect changes in Federal law or HHS guidance, any issues discovered during audits or reviews, and any other relevant developments;
  • Management oversight and supervision of the implementation and administration of the corrective actions required by the Corrective Action Plan and HIPAA compliance; and
  • Management reporting to OCR on its actions and compliance with the Corrective Action Plan.

SJH Settlement

Similarly, the SJH Settlement OCR announced on October 18, 2016 with St. Joseph Health (SJH) requires SJH to pay  a $2.4 million plus settlement payment, conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis and implement and administer a comprehensive correction plan to settle OCR charges that SJH violated HIPAA by allowing files containing ePHI of 31,800 individuals that SJH created for its participation in the Medicare meaningful use program to be publicly accessible on the internet from February 1, 2011, until February 13, 2012.

A nonprofit integrated Catholic health care delivery system sponsored by the St. Joseph Health Ministry, who through its 24,000 employees and 6,000 physicians provides a range of health care services to more than 137,000 inpatients and 3.6 million outpatients each year at SHS’ 4 acute care hospitals, home health agencies, hospice care, outpatient services, skilled nursing facilities, community clinics and physician organizations located throughout California and in parts of Texas and New Mexico.

OCR’s charges against SJH arose out of OCR’s investigation into a 2012 breach notification report SJS filed with OCR.  On February 14, 2012, SJH reported to OCR that files containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 31,800 individuals from five of the SJH hospitals-St. Jude Medical Center, Mission Hospital, Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and Petaluma Valley Hospital that SJH created for its participation in the meaningful use program were publicly accessible on the internet from February 1, 2011, until February 13, 2012, via Google and possibly other internet search engines.

SJH’s report to OCR indicated that this public access resulted from a configuration within its network server in which PDF files containing following patient information were uploaded: patient names; BMI; blood pressure; lab results; smoking status; diagnoses lists; medication allergies; advance directive status and demographic information (language, ethnicity, race, sex, and birth date). The server SJH purchased to store the files included a file sharing application whose default settings allowed anyone with an internet connection to access them. Upon implementation of this server and the file sharing application, SJH did not examine or modify it. As a result, the public had unrestricted access to PDF files containing the ePHI of 31,800 individuals, including patient names, health statuses, diagnoses, and demographic information  from February 14, 2012 until SJH blocked external access to the ePHI when it shut down the application February 13, 2012.

OCR’s investigation indicated the following potential violations of the HIPAA Rules:

  • From February 1, 2011 to February 13, 2012, SJH potentially disclosed the PHI of 31,800 individuals;
  • Evidence indicated that SJH failed to conduct an evaluation in response to the environmental and operational changes presented by implementation of a new server for its meaningful use project, thereby compromising the security of ePHI;
  • Although SJH hired a number of contractors to assess the risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of ePHI held by SJH, evidence indicated that this was conducted in a patchwork fashion and did not result in an enterprise-wide risk analysis, as required by the HIPAA Security Rule.

To resolve charges resulting from these findings, the SJH Resolution Agreement requires SJH to pay OCR a $2,140,500 settlement payment and adopt a comprehensive corrective action plan which among other things, requires SJH to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis, develop and implement a risk management plan, revise its policies and procedures, and train its staff on these policies and procedures.  SJH’s Chief Executive Officer, Annette M. Walker, is named in the Corrective Action Plan as the SJH authorized representative and contact person responsible for overseeing the CAP implementation.

Among other things, the Corrective Action Plan specifically requires that SJH:

  • Within 240 days, conduct an enterprise-wide analysis and provide a report to OCR which includes a complete inventory of all electronic equipment, data systems, and applications that contain or store ePHI, and prepare and deliver to OCR for review an enterprise-wide risk analysis that identifies all security risks and vulnerabilities that incorporates all electronic equipment, data systems, and applications controlled, administered, or owned by SJH, its workforce members, and affiliated staff that contains, stores, transmits, or receives electronic protected health information (ePHJ);
  • Revise this risk analysis plan as directed by OCR based on its review of the presented risk analysis;
  • Develop and implement to the satisfaction of OCR an organization-wide risk management plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities identified in the risk analysis;
  • Distribute the risk management plan as finally approved by OCR to to workforce members involved with implementation of the plan within 30 days of OCR approval;
  • Revise to OCR’s satisfaction, adopt and implement within 30 days of OCR’s approval compliant HIPAA policies and procedures;
  • Prepare for review of OCR training materials and once approved by OCR, provide initial training to required workforce members, and obtain certification of completion of that training from each required workforce member within 60 days of OCR’s approval of the training and thereafter at least annually as long as the Corrective Action Plan remains in force;
  • Promptly conduct a documented investigation of any information indicating a potential workforce member violation of the new HIPAA policies in the manner required by OCR and if the investigation confirms a violation (Reportable Event), notify OCR of the relevant facts, findings, corrective actions and sanctions imposed against the violating workforce member in the manner required by the Corrective Action Plan;
  • Submit annual report to OCR signed and attested to by an SJH officer, which contains the information and attestations of compliance with the requirements of the Corrective Action Plan in accordance with the Corrective Action Plan;
  • Retain for inspection and copying and provide to OCR upon request all documents and records relating to compliance with this Corrective Action Plan for six (6) years from the Effective Date of the SJH Settlement Agreement.

Take Away For Other Covered Entities & Business Associates

The OHSU and SJH Settlement Agreements send a clear message to all Covered Entities and business associates that they must be prepared to demonstrate not only that their initial adoption and implementation of required HIPAA Privacy and Security policies and safeguards, but also that their organization’s leadership needs to be prepared to demonstrate their commitment to HIPAA compliance by making adequate provision for HIPAA compliance, and appropriately monitoring developments that could impact the adequacy of their existing measures and timely update their systems and security, policies, procedures, training and other relevant safeguards.

The Settlements make clear that Covered Entities and their business associates should ensure that their organization possesses a well-documented current enterprise-wide risk assessment, as well as has in place and is administering as necessary to maintain the currency and adequacy of its risk assessment strong practices for conducting documented evaluations of their own HIPAA security, policies, practices, audits and investigations and other procedures necessary to comply with HIPAA, taking into account recent OCR guidance,  its initiation of its Phase II audit program, the insights offered by OCR’s ever growing list of enforcement actions and compliance tools, as well as changes in systems, documentation, software, equipment or other occurrences within the operations of the Covered Entity or business associate’s operations that could impact the currency and adequacy of its risk assessment or otherwise raise compliance risks.

In this respect, Covered Entities and business associates are encouraged to take special note of the advisability of specifically reviewing and updating their HIPAA policies, practices, business associate agreements, training, oversight and documentation to in response to the guidance and insight that OCR provides, including:

Employer and other health plan sponsors, health plan fiduciaries and business associates, and their service providers also generally will want to consider their responsibilities to provide and enforce employer certifications, as well as the fiduciary obligations health plan fiduciaries under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Among other things, wrongful disclosure of PHI to a sponsoring employer or others could violate HIPAA or other plan terms.  Furthermore, Department of Labor officials have indicated stated that a fiduciary’s general fiduciary responsibilities can apply to the protection and administration of PHI and other health plan information as well as create a duty by a responsible fiduciary to prudently investigate and take steps to address breaches or other potential concerns that place PHI at risk.  See, HIPAA Settlement Warns Health Plans, Sponsoring Employers & Business Associates To Manage HIPAA Risks.

Furthermore, as breaches of PHI and other violations of HIPAA also frequently give rise to responsibilities or risks under a broad range of other federal and state laws medical and financial privacy and data security, Medicare and other terms of federal program participation, medical credentialing, licensure and ethics, insurance and Employee Retirement Income Security Act fiduciary responsibilities in the case of health plans, contractual,  tort and other exposures, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally are best served to take into account these other responsibilities and exposures in conjunction with the design and administration of their HIPAA compliance and risk management policies and practices.

Covered Entities and their business associates also should seek advice from legal counsel regarding the adequacy of their compliance, investigatory, training, management oversight, training, reporting, documentation, document retention and other processes and procedures that could reduce risks of HIPAA violations and position the organization to effectively and more efficiently respond to a potential breach, audit, investigation or enforcement action and mitigate the costs and potential liability exposures that increasingly attends these events.  In addition, given the typically high financial, operational and legal costs typically incurred to conduct investigations, report and redress breaches, and respond to OCR audits or investigations, much less make any payments and implement any corrective actions required to settle OCR changes, most Covered Entities and their business associations will want to consider the advisability and adequacy of insurance and other sources of funding or indemnification for the often substantial costs that often attend a HIPAA breach, audit or enforcement event. Since HIPAA violations under certain circumstances also can give rise to felony criminal liability, boards of directors and other leaders of Covered Entities and business associates also will want to ensure that their HIPAA compliance policies and practices also are incorporated and monitored by management as part of their organization’s overall Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance programs and practices.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of  “Labor & Employment,”“Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns earned in connection with her more than 28 years’ of involvement advising and representing business and government clients domestically and internationally about workforce and human resources, employee benefits; health care; insurance and financial; privacy and data security and other performance management, regulatory, internal controls and other compliance, risk management, public policy and operational other key concerns.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair and current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, Groups and Substantive Committee and Membership Committee Members, past Welfare Plans Committee Chair and Co-Chair, and former Fiduciary Responsibility Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Marketing Committee Chair and a prolific author and highly popular speaker and consultant, Ms. Stamer helps management manage.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

As a core component of her work,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and representing clients on privacy and data security concerns and other health industry matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as a scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR, the Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit, and an editorial advisory board member, author, program chair or steering committee member, and faculties for a multitude of other programs and publications regarding privacy, data security, technology and other compliance, risk management and operational concerns in the health care, health and other insurance, employee benefits and human resources, retail, financial services and other arenas.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on HIPAA and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clientson the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com  or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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