OCR HIPAA Resolution Agreement Against Bankrupt Business Associate Signals Growing Exposures, Need for Tighter HIPAA Compliance By Health Plans & Business Associates

February 15, 2018

Health plans and insurers, their service providers that act as business associates within the meaning of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, and other management leaders should heed the warnings contained in the new Resolution Agreement (FileFax Resolution Agreement) with former HIPAA business associate FileFax, Inc. announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about their own need to ensure that they and their business associates comply with HIPAA’s business associate and other Privacy, Security, Breach Notification rules as well as the advisability of tightening up their risk management and oversight of business associates that handle protected health information (PHI).

Significant for business associates as what appears to be the first announced resolution agreement with a business associate directly charged by OCR with violating HIPAA and the second resolution agreement pursued and reached with a HIPAA-regulated entity in bankruptcy, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement OCR announced February 13, 2018 also contains critical lessons for Covered Entities about their dealings with their own business associates when read in conjunction with the April, 2017 resolution agreement the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH) agreed to resolve OCR charges CCDC, as a Covered Entity, violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to act as its business associate without adequately complying with HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

With widespread media coverage over large scale breaches of health care and other sensitive information placing further pressure upon OCR and other governmental agencies to act to protect Americans’ privacy and data fueling even greater demands for OCR and other agencies to take meaningful action to enforce HIPAA and other privacy and data security requirements, health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can expect OCR and other agencies to continue to turn up the heat on investigation and enforcement of HIPAA compliance.

In the face of these developments, Covered Entities, their business associates and those responsible for their leadership and operations need to recognize and take the necessary steps both effectively to manage their own HIPAA compliance and risk management as well as to anticipate and make provision to deal with the likelihood that they may face HIPAA responsibilities, exposures and other fallout from their own or another business partner’s breach of PHI or other sensitive data or other HIPAA violations, bankruptcy or other business distress, or other compliance or business event.

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, Covered Entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, Covered Entities and business associates also must 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. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that Covered Entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil monetary penalties 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).

Resolution Agreements the just announced FileFax Resolution Agreement allow Covered Entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA for HIPAA violations through a negotiated settlement process.  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.

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures, Covered Entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  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.

Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

FileFax, Inc.  Breach & Resolution Agreement

While Congress amended the Civil Monetary Penalty provisions of HIPAA enforced by OCR to make many of the requirements and Civil Monetary Penalty sanctions of HIPAA directly enforceable by OCR against business associates as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the FileFax Resolution Agreement appears to be the first HIPAA resolution agreement with a business associate announced by OCR.

Indeed, OCR’s enforcement action that resulted in the FileFax Resolution Agreement would never have occurred had FileFax, Inc. not become involved in handling medical records containing PHI in the capacity of a business associate for Covered Entities.

Before filing for bankruptcy in 2016, FileFax, Inc. advertised it provided HIPAA-compliant storage, maintenance, and delivery of medical records for HIPAA Covered Entities including Illinois based health care provider CCDC, which entered into a resolution agreement with OCR in April, 2017 to resolve OCR charges that it violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to handle PHI without fulfilling HIPAA’s business associate agreement requirements.

Like the CCDC Resolution Agreement, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement resulted from an investigation of FileFax, Inc. that OCR began in response to a February 10, 2015 anonymous complaint filed with OCR about FileFax, Inc. about deficiencies in its delivery of these HIPAA services in its capacity as a business associate to Covered Entities. The complaint to OCR alleged that FileFax, Inc. violated these requirements because an individual transported medical records obtained from FileFax, Inc. to a shredding and recycling facility to sell on February 6 and 9, 2015.

OCR’s investigation of the complaint against FileFax, Inc. confirmed that an individual had left medical records of approximately 2,150 patients at the shredding and recycling facility, and that these medical records contained patients’ PHI.  OCR’s investigation additionally found that between January 28, 2015, and February 14, 2015, FileFax, Inc. impermissibly disclosed the PHI of 2,150 individuals by leaving the PHI in an unlocked truck in the FileFax, Inc.  parking lot, or by granting permission to an unauthorized person to remove the PHI from FileFax, Inc. and leaving the PHI unsecured outside the FileFax, Inc. facility.

After OCR commenced its investigation of the complaint, FileFax, Inc. was placed into bankruptcy and a receiver was appointed to liquidate FileFax, Inc.’s assets for distribution to creditors and others in 2016.  Despite the bankruptcy, OCR continued to pursue enforcement against FileFax, Inc. for the HIPAA violations it found through its investigation.  On February 13, 2018, OCR announced that that the receiver on behalf of FileFax, Inc. had agreed in the FileFax Resolution Agreement to pay a $100,000 monetary settlement out of the bankruptcy estate and to arrange to properly store and dispose of remaining medical records found at FileFax, Inc.’s facility in compliance with HIPAA to resolve OCR’s HIPAA charges against FileFax, Inc.

OCR Previously Sanctioned Covered Entity For Involvement With FileFax, Inc.

Beyond affirming the exposure business associates to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for violating HIPAA, the FileFax Resolution Agreement in conjunction with OCR’s previously announced April 20, 2017 resolution agreement (CCDC Resolution Agreement) with CCDC also demonstrates the need for Covered Entities to recognize that their organizations are likely to face HIPAA investigations or enforcement from HIPAA violations by or OCR audits or investigations of the conduct of their business associates.

In fact, this is exactly what happened to CCDC.  A small, Illinois based Covered Entity, CCDC used FileFax, Inc. to store and dispose of medical records.  As a consequence of the FileFax, Inc. investigation, OCR conducted a compliance review of CCDC.  OCR reports that its compliance review revealed that while CCDC had disclosed to and allowed FileFax, Inc. to store records containing PHI for CCDC since in 2003, neither party could produce a signed business associate agreement (BAA) prior to October 12, 2015.   As a consequence, OCR charged CCDC with violating HIPAA by disclosing PHI to FileFax, Inc. in violation of HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

To resolve its exposure to potentially much greater civil monetary penalties associated with this charge, CCDC agreed under the CCDC Resolution Agreement to pay OCR a $31,000 resolution payment and take a variety of corrective actions.  Beyond requiring CCDC to implement and maintain  written business associate agreements before allowing business associates to possess or access PHI, the corrective action plan imposed as part of the CCDC Resolution Agreement also expressly requires CCDC to promptly investigate information of a possible violation of its HIPAA policies and procedures by  a “workforce member,” which the Privacy Rule defines to include a business associate, and if the investigation reveals a violation, to report the violation and corrective action taken to OCR.

OCR Enforces HIPAA Against Covered Entities & Business Associates In Bankruptcy

OCR’s announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement also is significant in its reaffirmation of OCR to its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, even if the HIPAA-violating Covered Entity or business associate goes bankruptcy.

OCR’s enforcement action against FileFax, Inc. despite its bankruptcy and its successful negotiation of the FileFax Resolution Agreement within the bankruptcy should alert Covered Entities and business associates that OCR does not consider the bankruptcy of a Covered Entity or business associate as an obstacle to OCR enforcement against Covered Entities or business associates that violate HIPAA.   The seriousness of OCR’s commitment to enforcement, even in the face of bankruptcy is driven home by its announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement on the heels of its December, 2017 announcement of its first OCR HIPAA resolution agreement secured with the formal approval of a bankruptcy court, a resolution agreement (21CO Resolution Agreement) against bankrupt health care provider, 21CO.

Secured with bankruptcy court approval, the 21CO Resolution Agreement resolved potentially much larger civil monetary penalties that the Fort Myers, Florida based provider of cancer care services and radiation oncology could have faced for alleged HIPAA breaches OCR charged it committed in connection with its failure to adequately act to prevent and respond to hacking and misappropriation of records containing sensitive electronic protected health information (ePHI) of up to 2,213597 individuals.

The OCR charges against 21CO arose from an OCR investigation commenced after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified 21CO on November 13, 2015 and a second time on December 13, 2015 than unauthorized third party illegally obtained 21CO sensitive patient information and produced 21CO patient files purchased by a FBI informant.  As part of its internal investigation, 21CO hired a third party forensic auditing firm in November 2015. 21CO determined that the attacker may have accessed 21CO’s network SQL database as early as October 3, 2015, through Remote Desktop Protocol from an Exchange Server within 21CO’s network. 21CO determined that it is possible that 2,213,597 individuals may have been affected by the impermissible access to their names, social security numbers, physicians’ names, diagnoses, treatment and insurance information.

Although it knew of the breaches in November and December, 2015, 21CO waited more than three months after the FBI notified it of the breaches before it sent HIPAA or other breach notifications about the data breach to patients or notified investors in March, 2016. Its March 4, 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K on Data Security Incident (Breach 8-K) states 21CO delayed notification at the request of the FBI to avoid interfering in the criminal investigation of the breach.

When announcing the breach, 21CO provided all individuals affected by the breach with a free one-year subscription to the Experian ProtectMyID fraud protection service. At that time, 21CO said it had no evidence that any patient information actually had been misused.  However some victims of the breach subsequently have claimed being victimized by a variety of scams since the breach in news reports and lawsuits about the breach.

At the time of the breach and its March 4, 2016 announcement of the breach, 21CO already was working to resolve other compliance issues.  On December 16, 2015, 21CO announced that a 21CO subsidiary had agreed to pay $19.75 million to the United States and $528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and comply with a corporate integrity agreement related to a qui tam action in which it was accused of making false claims to Medicare and other federal health programs. See 21CO 8-K Re: Entry into a Material Definitive Agreement (December 22, 2015).  Among other things, the corporate integrity agreement required by that settlement required 21CO to appoint a compliance officer and take other steps to maintain compliance with federal health care laws.  In addition, five days after releasing the March 4, 2017 Breach 8-K, 21CO notified investors that its subsidiary, 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (“21C”), had agreed to pay $37.4 million to settle health care fraud law charges relating to billing and other protocols of certain staff in the utilization of state-of-the-art radiation dose calculation system used by radiation oncologists called GAMMA.  See 21CO 8-K Re: GAMMA Settlement March 9, 2016 ;  See also United States Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against 21st Century Oncology for $34.7 Million.

Based on OCR’s subsequent investigation into these breaches, OCR found:

  • 21CO impermissibly disclosed certain PHI of 2,213,597 of its patients in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a);
  • 21CO failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) held by 21CO in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • 21CO failed to implement certain security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with 45 C.F.R. § 164.306(A) in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(B);
  •  21CO failed to implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports as required by 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D);
  • 21CO disclosed protected health information to a third party vendors, acting as its business associates, without obtaining satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate agreement in violation of HIPAA’s business associate rule requirements under 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(e) and 164.308(b)(3).

In return for OCR’s agreement not to further pursue charges or penalties relating to the breach investigation, the Resolution Agreement entered into with the approval of the Bankruptcy Court requires that 21CO pay OCR a $2.3 million Resolution Amount and implement to OCR’s satisfaction a corrective action plan that among other things requires that 21CO complete a detailed series of corrective actions to the satisfaction of OCR.

In addition to the OCR investigation that lead to the 21CO Resolution Agreement announced by OCR on December 28, 2017, 21CO experienced other fallout following its March 4, 2016 public disclosure of the breach.  Not surprisingly, the breach notification led to a multitude of class-action civil lawsuits by breach victims and shareholders.  See, e.g., 16 Data Breach Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against 21st Century Oncology Consolidated; 21st Century Oncology data breach prompts multiple lawsuits.  Reports of spoofing and other misleading contacts made to 21CO patients following the breach prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a specific notice alerting victims about potential false breach notifications and other misleading contacts.  See April 4, 2016 FTC Announcement Re: 21st Century Oncology breach exposes patients’ info.

These and other developments also had significant consequences on 21CO’s financial status and leadership.  By March 31, 2015, 21CO notified the SEC and investors that it needed added time to complete its financial statements.  Subsequent SEC filings document its restatement of financial statements, the departure of board members and other leaders, default on credit terms, and ultimately its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on May 25, 2017.

Because 21CO sought bankruptcy court protection from the fallout of its HIPAA breaches and other compliance and business issues, the 21CO Resolution Agreement required bankruptcy court approval. Funds for payment of the required $2.3 million resolution payment and other charges associated with the investigation apparently are being provided in part from breach liability insurance coverage provided under a policy issued by Beazley Insurance, as the Bankruptcy Court order directs Beazley Breach Response Policy No. W140E2150301 to make immediate payment to the OCR of the resolution amount and the payment of fees incurred by 21CO in connection with regulatory defense issues.

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing Health Plan Risk

Health plans and other Covered Entities, plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries, their business associates and other consultants and service providers and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FileFax, CCDC, 21CO and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement and that their exposure to investigation and enforcement is likely to continue to rise in the face of growing public and Congressional concern about privacy and data security.

While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, Covered Entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing and that this trend is likely to continue if not increase.

While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments against Covered Entities and with the FileFax Resolution Agreement announcement, now also business associates for violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty);  1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $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.

The experiences of FileFax, Inc., CCDC, 21CO and these other OCR HIPAA Resolution Agreements provide strong evidence that that health plans and other Covered Entities and their business associates can anticipate that OCR will continue to zealously investigate HIPAA breaches and other HIPAA violations.  Aside from OCR’s recurrent affirmations of its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, Covered Entities, their business associates and their leaders must recognize that public and Congressional privacy and data security concerns fueled by the ever growing stream of massive data breaches at Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses are creating additional pressure upon OCR and other agencies to pursue even stronger and more aggressive HIPAA oversight and enforcement. Amid this growing concern, OCR, the FTC and other federal and state agencies with regulatory or enforcement authority over HIPAA or other data security and privacy concerns face increasing scrutiny and pressure to take meaningful action to regulate and enforce HIPAA and other laws intended to protect sensitive data even as private litigants enjoy increasing success in obtaining civil judgments from damages resulting from breaches of their PHI or other sensitive personal information using an expanding arsenal of legal theories of recovery.  In the face of these growing concerns about privacy and data security, OCR can be expected to continue, if not increase its HIPAA compliance enforcement and oversight by OCR.

Furthermore, the experiences of FileFax, Inc., 21CO, CCDC and other Covered Entities and business associates that already have become the subject of OCR investigation or enforcement also reflect that HIPAA resolution payments or penalties paid to OCR and other costs and expenses associated with the defense and resolution of OCR’s investigations and enforcement actions typically only a portion of the financial and other business consequences that Covered Entities or business associates might expect to incur as a consequence of a breach of PHI or other substantial HIPAA violation or charge.

Beyond their potential HIPAA enforcement exposures following a HIPAA covered data breach or other violation, health care or other Covered Entities and members of their workforce experiencing breaches of ePHI or other PHI often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement relating their data breaches under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other laws.  They or members of their workforce may face licensing board, credentialing, accreditation, contractual or other investigations or sanctions.  Victims, business partners, investors and others often bring civil litigation to address losses or other injures associated with the breach or other misconduct.  In addition, losses and disruptions in patients, plan member, vendor, investor, employee, management and other business relationships, and other business disruptions also are common.

Where the breach of other HIPAA violation involves a health plan, health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors also need to give due consideration to the implications and exposures that might arise under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Beyond the direct exposure of their health plan to HIPAA and other compliance liabilities, health plan fiduciaries generally will want to consider whether their fiduciary responsibility under ERISA requires that prudent or other steps be taken to safeguard health plan information and maintain and administer their health plan in accordance with HIPAA and other laws.  As a consequence, fiduciaries generally will want to ensure that they take and document prudent steps to evaluate, monitor and address HIPAA and other privacy and data security safeguards to minimize not only the liability exposures of their health plans, but also to help mitigate their own potential personal liability exposures that could arise or be asserted in response to a HIPAA breach or other HIPAA violation involving their health plans.

In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, Covered Entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.  In addition to reaffirming the need for Covered Entities and their business associates to take the necessary steps to maintain and effectively demonstrate the adequacy of their own HIPAA compliance, the CCDC and FileFax Resolution Agreements alert Covered Entities and business associates of the advisability of greater oversight and risk management of their dealings and relationships with the other Covered Entities and business associates with access to or involvement with their PHI or other critical functions.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA and its business associate and other privacy, data security and breach notification and response requirements, but also maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.  The bankruptcies and other financial and business fallout of HIPAA or other data breaches experienced by FileFax, Inc. 21CO and other HIPAA-covered and non-HIPAA regulated entities also makes clear that Covered Entities and business associates should anticipate that their own fallout from a breach or other HIPAA event and resulting responsibilities and consequences could be impacted by their own or a business associate’s financial distress or bankruptcy.  Beyond the risk that their own or another entity’s breach, compliance issues, or other financial or business issues could trigger breach investigation, notice or other responsibilities for their own organizations, Covered Entities, business associates and their leaders also should evaluate and revise their HIPAA risk assessments and security plans to address foreseeable threats to the availability, access, retention and security of PHI and associated records and systems.

The Bankruptcy Court’s order to 21CO’s cyber liability insurer to pay the resolution payment required under the 21CO Resolution Agreement and other costs of investigation and defense also strongly suggests that the purchase of insurance and other arrangements for funding costs of defense or settlement should be included in these evaluations.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, Covered Entities and their business associates should recognize the advisability of taking meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

As part of these efforts, Covered Entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well-documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

As part of this process, Covered Entities and business associates should maintain strong and ongoing processes for assessing and monitoring the adequacy of their policies and practices.  In addition to ensuring that their organization has a comprehensive risk management and compliance assessment, Covered Entities and business associates need to conduct documented periodic audits and spot HIPAA audits and assessments.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization. Testing and analysis should be conducted on a regular basis.  Documented reassessments and testing should be performed in response to software, hardware or other changes or events that could impact security or other operations.  Beyond security, attention also should cover business or system interruption including losses that might occur from the bankruptcy, termination of business or other disruptions of business associates or other parties.  Attention should be paid both to protecting access and use of PHI and ePHI in the course of business as well as the transmission, transport, storage and destruction of records or systems containing such information.

Careful attention should be devoted to ensuring that business associate agreements   as well and other processes provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to all PHI created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

  • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
  • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
  • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
  • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, Covered Entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

About The Author

Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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 including:

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.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide 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 legal advice or 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.

©2018 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.

 


$3.5M HIPAA Settlement Highlights Need To Prioritize Health Plan HIPAA Compliance in 2018

February 2, 2018

The $3.5 million payment that Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA) is paying to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to settle potential liability for potentially much higher Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) to OCR for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules violation charges under a voluntary resolution agreement illustrates the need for group health plans and their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, and vendors to make HIPAA compliance a key priority for 2018.

Widespread publicity and fallout from data breaches involving Equifax, Blue Cross, the Internal Revenue Service and many other giant organizations have ramped up public awareness and government concern about health care and other data security.  The resulting pressure is adding additional fuel to the already substantial concern of OCR and other agencies about compliance with HIPAA and other data security and breach laws.  Like the $2.3 million HIPAA resolution agreement OCR announced with now bankrupt radiation oncology and cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (21CO) earlier this year,  see, e.g., $23M Penalty Small Part of 21st Century’s Data Breach Fallout; Offers Data Breach Lessons For Other Businesses, the growing list of OCR resolution agreements and other enforcement actions against FMCNA, 21CO and other covered entities and other legal and market fallout that covered entities and other organizations experience following the announcement of breaches or other security deficiencies make the case for why HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (covered entities) must prioritize HIPAA compliance and other medical and other data security protection, privacy and risk management a top priority in 2018.

When weighing the importance of HIPAA compliance and risk management for their health plans, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and their business associates should resist the temptation to underestimate the exposure because providers, rather than health plans, have been  the most common target of the majority of the announced OCR enforcement actions resulting in substantial civil monetary penalties or resolution payments.

Rather, they should take note of resolution agreements and other enforcement actions against health plans such as the $2.2 million settlement payment APFRE Life Insurance Company of Puerto Rico (MAPFRE) paid under a 2017 resolution agreement to resolve HIPAA violation charges OCR brought based on its investigation of a September 29, 2011 breach report MCPFRE made to OCR.  The breach report indicated that a USB data storage device (described as a “pen drive”) containing ePHI was stolen from its IT department, where the device was left without safeguards overnight.   According to the report, the USB data storage device included complete names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.   The report noted that the breach affected 2,209 individuals.   MAPFRE informed OCR that it was able to identify the breached ePHI by reconstituting the data on the computer on which the USB data storage device was attached. OCR’s investigation revealed MAPFRE’s noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, specifically a failure to conduct its risk analysis and implement risk management plans, contrary to its prior representations, and a failure to deploy encryption or an equivalent alternative measure on its laptops and removable storage media until September 1, 2014.  MAPFRE also failed to implement or delayed implementing other corrective measures it informed OCR it would undertake.

 

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, covered entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, covered entities and business associates also must 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. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil monetary penalties 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).

Resolution Agreements like the $3.2 million FMCNA resolution agreement allow covered entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA.  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.

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures,  covered entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  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.

Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

Fresenius Breach, Charges & Settlement Agreement Illustrate Civil Exposures

The FMCNA resolution agreement is another example of a growing list of resolution agreements various HIPAA covered entities have entered into to resolve their exposure to potentially greater liability should OCR assess civil monetary penalties under HIPAA’s civil sanction scheme.

The breach reports filed on January 21, 2017 reported five separate breach incidents occurring between February 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012 implicating the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of five separate FMCNA owned covered entities (FMCNA covered entities):  Bio-Medical Applications of Florida, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Duval Facility in Jacksonville, Florida (FMC Duval Facility); Bio-Medical Applications of Alabama, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Magnolia Grove in Semmes, Alabama (FMC Magnolia Grove Facility); Renal Dimensions, LLC d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona (FMC Ak-Chin Facility); Fresenius Vascular Care Augusta, LLC (FVC Augusta); and WSKC Dialysis Services, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Blue Island Dialysis (FMC Blue Island Facility).

OCR concluded its investigation showed the breaches resulted because FMCNA failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI.  OCR also concluded:

  • The FMCNA covered entities impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of patients by providing unauthorized access for a purpose not permitted by the Privacy Rule.
  • FMC Ak-Chin failed to implement policies and procedures to address security incidents.
  • FMC Magnolia Grove failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain ePHI into and out of a facility; and the movement of these items within the facility.
  • FMC Duval and FMC Blue Island failed to implement policies and procedures to safeguard their facilities and equipment therein from unauthorized access, tampering, and theft, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.
  • FMC Magnolia Grove and FVC Augusta failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.

In addition to a $3.5 million monetary settlement, a corrective action plan requires the FMCNA covered entities to complete a risk analysis and risk management plan, revise policies and procedures on device and media controls as well as facility access controls, develop an encryption report, and educate its workforce on policies and procedures.

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing  Health Plan Risk

Health plans and other covered entities, plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries, their business associates and other consultants and service providers and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FMCNA and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement.

While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, covered entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing.

While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments that FMCNA and other covered entities caught violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty); 1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $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.

Beyond the direct exposure of their health plan to HIPAA and other compliance liabilities, health plan fiduciaries also should note that their fiduciary responsibility under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) likely includes taking prudent steps to safeguard health plan information and maintain and administer their health plan in accordance with HIPAA.  As a consequence, fiduciaries generally will want to ensure that they take and document prudent steps to evaluate, monitor and address HIPAA and other privacy and data security safeguards to minimize not only the liability exposures of their health plans, but also to help mitigate their own potential personal liability exposures that could arise or be asserted in response to a HIPAA breach or other HIPAA violation involving their health plans.

Coming on the heels of  an already lengthy and growing list of OCR high dollar HIPAA enforcement actions, the FMCNA and other resolution agreements and civil monetary penalties these and other announced enforcement actions clearly reflect that OCR takes HIPAA compliance seriously and stands ready to impose substantial penalties when it finds violations in connection with breach notice investigations.  Viewed in the context of these and other enforcement actions, the FMCNA Resolution Agreement and others clearly reflect the time for complacency in HIPAA compliance and leniency in HIPAA HIPAA enforcement are passed.  Rather, these and other enforcement actions make clear why health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates must make HIPAA compliance a priority now.

Covered entities and business associates also should recognize their potential responsibilities and risks for breaches or other improper conduct concerning patient or other sensitive personal financial information, trade secrets or other data under a wide range of laws beyond HIPAA and its state law equivalents.  As documented by the media coverage of the legal and business woes of Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses have and continue to incur from data breaches within their organizations, health care or other covered entities experiencing breaches often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other rules as well as business losses and disruptions; civil litigation from breach victims, shareholders and investors, and business partners as well as OCR, FTC, and state data security regulation enforcement.  Amid this growing concern, OCR has indicated that it intends to continue to diligently both seek to support and encourage voluntary compliance by covered entities and their business associates and  investigate and enforce HIPAA against HIPAA covered entities and their business associates that fail to adequately safeguard PHI and ePHI in accordance with HIPAA. In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, covered entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with covered entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the covered entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, covered entities and their business associates must recognize and take meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

In response to these growing risks and concerns, covered entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization  cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

As part of this process, covered entities and business associates should start by reviewing and updating their policies, HIPAA audits and assessments and other documentation and processes.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include both general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization  as well as the business associate agreements and other processes to provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to protected health information created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

  • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
  • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
  • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
  • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, covered entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

About The Author

Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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 including:

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.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide 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 legal advice or 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.

©2018 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.


Check & Protect Health & Other Electronic Systems & Data Against New Security Threat

January 17, 2018

Health plans, their employer, union, insurer or other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrative or other service providers and their vendors and advisors should act immediately to investigate if any action is needed to protect electronic protected health information or other sensitive data and systems in response to the following cyber risk alert from the Department Of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

TLP: WHITE: ASPR/CIP HPH Cyber Notice: Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerability Guidance UPDATE #1

January 17, 2018

DISCLAIMER: This product is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not provide warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. HHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this product or otherwise. Further dissemination of this product is governed by the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) marking in the header.

TLP: WHITE information may be distributed without restriction (subject to standard copyright rules).

Healthcare and Public Health Sector partners-

The attached report is a technical update to the previously distributed HPH Cyber Notice covering chip vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre. Both Meltdown and Spectre are vulnerabilities in how computer chips handle data that have the potential to expose sensitive information, such as protected health information (PHI), being processed on the chip.  As this information is protected from disclosure under HIPAA, Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) entities should employ risk management processes to address these vulnerabilities and ensure the security of medical records and other PHI.

Major concerns for the HPH sector include but are not limited to:

• Challenges identifying vulnerable medical devices and accessory medical equipment and ensuring patches are validated to prevent impacts to the intended use.

• Cloud Computing: Potential PHI or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data leakage in shared computing environments

• Web browsers: Possible PHI/PII data leakage

• Patches: Potential for service degradation and/or interruption from patches

The detailed report can be found here: Technical Report on Widespread Processor Vulnerabilities


Consider Internal Investigation & Defense Costs When Administering Compliance Programs

December 5, 2017

The Justice Department’s report Tuesday that the Justice Department spent $3.2 million on Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe its first four-and-a-half months highlights the importance for leaders accountable for their organizations’s Federal Sentencing Guideline, sexual harassment and other corporate compliance programs to appropriately plan and budget for potential investigation and defense costs as part of their compliance and risk management planning.

Conducting an internal investigation or defending a government or other allegation of wrongdoing often proves surprisingly expensive. While how much an internal investigation costs can vary widely depending on the issue, its potential civil and criminal liability and public relations implications on the organization and its management, it’s timing, the adequacy of the pre-event compliance management and record keeping relating to the issue, and a host of other concerns, investigation and defense costs often become largely irrelevant when an organization is required to investigate or defend against charges of legal or other business misconduct that expose the organization or its leadership to potentially devastating legal or business consequences. When these events happen, organizations and their leaders often see little option to spend whatever is necessary to defend their organization and its reputation.

Compared to the reported internal investigation and defense expenditures of private sector organizations that have faced these these make or break investigations, the Justice Department’s reported expenditures to date on the Russian probe look small.

For instance, Twenty-First Century Fox in March, 2017 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings disclosed spending $45 million tied to litigation related to harassment allegations in the 9 first three quarters of 2017 and $10 million “related to settlements of pending and potential litigations” during its fiscal third quarter as well as having received investigative inquiries and stockholder demands to inspect the books and records of the company which could lead to future litigation in the aftermath of sexual harassment allegations at Fox News.

In contrast, Avon Products spent nearly $500 million conducting its internal investigation before paying a $135m fine to the US government to settle charges it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by giving Chinese authorities $8 million in gifts and cash while it sought to obtain the first “direct sell” license in China.

These and other publicly disclosed expenditures make clear that corporate officers and directors need to reassess their investment in compliance both to strengthen the effectiveness of their efforts and to plan to deal with the financial, legal, operational and other costs of investigating and defending potential charges.

Aboaut 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.

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:

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.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


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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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.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

May 10, 2017

Healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) can’t disclose the name or other protected health care information about a patient in press releases or other announcements without prior authorization from the patient. That’s the clear lesson Covered Entities should learn from the $2.4 million payment to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS) is paying to settle charges it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule by issuing a press release with the name and other protected health information (PHI) about a patient without the patient’s prior HIPAA-compliant authorization under a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) announced May 10, 2017 by HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The Resolution Agreement resolves OCR charges the operator of 13 hospitals, eight Cancer Centers, three Heart & Vascular Institutes, and 27 sports medicine and rehabilitation centers violated the Privacy Rule that resulted from an OCR compliance review of MHHS triggered by multiple media reports suggesting that MHHS improperly disclosed the name and other details about a patient arrested and charged with presenting an allegedly fraudulent identification card to office staff at an MHHS’s clinic after MHHS clinic staff alerted law enforcement of suspicions the patient was presenting false identification to the clinic. According to OCR, after law enforcement investigated and arrested the patient, MHHS published a press release concerning the incident in which MHHS senior management approved the impermissible disclosure of the patient’s PHI by adding the patient’s name in the title of the press release without securing prior authorization of the patient.

While OCR concluded the report to law enforcement allowable under the Privacy Rule, OCR found MHHS violated the Privacy Rule by issuing the press release disclosing the patient’s name and other PHI without authorization from the patient and also by failing to timely document the sanctioning of its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s information.

To resolve and avoid the potential Civil Monetary Penalties that HIPAA could authorize OCR to impose for the alleged Privacy Rule violation, MHHS agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR a $2.4 million monetary settlement and implement a corrective action plan that obligates MHHS to update and train its workforce on its policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from impermissible uses and disclosures including specific instructions and procedures to:

  • Address (a) Uses and disclosures for which an authorization is required, including to the media, to public officials, and on the internet; (b) Disclosures for law enforcement purposes; and (c) Uses and disclosures for health oversight activities;
  • Identify MHHS personnel or representatives whom workforce members, agents, or business associates may contact in the event of any inquiry or concern regarding compliance with HIPAA in relation to these activities;
  • Internal reporting procedures requiring all workforce members to report to the designated person or office at the earliest possible time any potential violations of the Privacy, Security or Breach Notification Rules or of MHHS’ privacy and security policies and procedures and MHHS promptly to investigate and address all received reports in a timely manner; and
  • Application and documentation of appropriate sanctions (which may include retraining or other instructive corrective action, depending on the circumstances) against members of MHHS’ workforce, including senior level management, who fail to comply with the Privacy, Security or Breach Notification Rules or MHHS’ privacy and security policies and procedures, including a description of the sanctions; a timeframe in which MHHS will apply and document sanctions for violations of the HIPAA Rules or of MHHS’ privacy, security or breach policies or procedures; the manner in which MHHS will document the sanctions; and where MHHS will store or retain such documentation (e.g., personnel file).

The corrective action plan in the Resolution Agreement also requires all MHHS facilities to attest to their understanding of permissible uses and disclosures of PHI, including disclosures to the media and others.

Covered entities should keep in mind the MHHS Resolution Agreement is the latest in a series of OCR enforcement actions and resolution agreements highlighting the need for Covered Entities to adopt and use appropriate policies and procedures to prevent wrongful disclosures of PHI to the media or public. For instance, in June, 2013, OCR required Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) to pay a $275,000 settlement payment and implement a comprehensive corrective action plan to resolve OCR charges stemming from SRMC’s disclosure of PHI about a patient to members of the media and its workforce in an effort to respond to accusations the patient made that SRMC engaged in fraud and other misconduct. See HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce.  In contrast, the $2.2 million resolution agreement that OCR required New York Presbyterian Hospital for improperly allowing a film crew to film hospital patients in violation of HIPAA was almost 10 times greater than the SRMC penalty and was accompanied by OCR’s publication OCR of specific additional guidance warning Covered Entities against improper disclosures to the media. See $2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use.

Following on the heels of this previous guidance and prior enforcement actions warning Covered Entities against wrongful disclosure to the media, the MHHS Resolution Agreement sends a strong message to Covered Entities that they should expect little sympathy if their organizations improperly share PHI with the media. OCR’s announcement of the MHHS Resolution Agreement, for instance quotes OCR Director Roger Severino with stating that “Senior management should have known that disclosing a patient’s name on the title of a press release was a clear HIPAA Privacy violation that would induce a swift OCR response.” The announcement goes on to quote Director Severino further as stating, “This case reminds us that organizations can readily cooperate with law enforcement without violating HIPAA, but that they must nevertheless continue to protect patient privacy when making statements to the public and elsewhere.”

Conduct Entity-Wide Risk Assessment & Review & Tighten Media Relations Policies, Processes & Training ASAP

Covered entities should heed the warning by conducting a risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to potential improper disclosures to media or others and reviewing and implementing necessary written policies, procedures and training to prevent the improper disclosure of patient PHI to media or others unless the Covered Entity either secures prior HIPAA-compliant authorization from the patient or can prove the disclosure falls squarely under an exception to the Privacy Rule’s prohibition against disclosure of PHI without authorization except as allowed by the Privacy Rule.

Taking these and other needed steps to evaluate, and strengthen and enforce as needed, risk assessments, policies, procedures, and training to prevent wrongful use, access or disclosure of PHI to the media or others is particularly critical in light of the ongoing tightening of expectations, and rising enforcement and sanctions for HIPAA violations since Congress amended HIPAA in 2009. See OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy RisksHIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

Based on experiences reported in the MHHS and other similar resolution agreements, Covered Entities also generally will want to ensure that their policies, procedures and training extend to all potential sources of communications that could involve patient information and make clear that the Privacy Rule restrictions must be followed even if the circumstances involve allegations of misconduct, special performance by healthcare providers or others that it would benefit the organization or certain individuals to have known to the public, or other circumstances likely to be of interest to the media or other parties.

As part of this process, covered entities should ensure they look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that appropriate training and clarification is provided to address media, practice transition, workforce communication and other policies and practices that may be covered by pre-existing or other policies of other departments or operational elements not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer such as media relations.  Media relations, physician and patients affairs, outside legal counsel, media relations, marketing and other internal and external departments and consultants dealing with the media, the public or other inquiries or disputes should carefully include and coordinate with the privacy officer both to ensure appropriate policies and procedures are followed and proper documentation created and retained to show authorization, account, or meet other requirements.

In conducting this analysis and risk assessment, it will be important that Covered Entities include, but also look beyond the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that their review and risk assessment identifies and assesses and addresses compliance risks on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.  For this reason, Covered Entities also generally will not only to adopt and implement specific policies, processes and training in these other departments to prohibit and prevent inappropriate disclosures of PHI in the course of those departments operations. It also may be advisable to pre-established processes for reviewing media or other communications for potential PHI content and require prior review of any proposed public relations and other internal or external communications containing patient PHI or other information by the privacy officer, legal counsel or another suitably qualified party.

Because of the high risk that the preparation or review of media or other public communications reports will involve the use and disclosure of PHI, Covered Entities also generally should verify that all outside media or public relations, legal, or other outside service providers participating in the investigation, response or preparation or review of communications to the media or others both are covered by signed business associate agreements that fulfill the Privacy Rule and other requirements of HIPAA as well as possess detailed knowledge and understanding of the Privacy and Security Rules suitable to participate in and help safeguard the Covered Entity against violations of these and other Privacy Rules.  See e.g., Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements.

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.

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 data security, privacy and breach laws.  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 trade secret, HIPAA and other medical, consumer, insurance, tax, and other  privacy and data security, 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 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.

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 plans, 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.

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; an 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.

 


Latest $2.5M HIPAA Settlement Warning To Health Plans, Providers: Get HIPAA Compliant

April 26, 2017

A new Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) CardioNet Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan  (Resolution Agreement) settling OCR charges of violations of the Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act against remote cardiac monitoring provider CardioNet provides important lessons for all health plans, health insurers, telemedicine and other healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates about steps to take to reduce their risk of getting hit with big OCR penalty like the $2.5 million settlement payment CardioNet must pay under the Resolution Agreement.

OCR announced the first OCR HIPAA settlement involving a wireless health services provider Monday, April 24.  Under the Resolution Agreement, CardioNet agrees to pay OCR $2.5 million and to implement a corrective action plan to settle potential OCR charges it violated the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules based on the impermissible disclosure of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI).

CardioNet Charges & Settlement

As has become increasingly common in recent years, the CardioNet settlement arose from concerns initially brought to OCR’s attention in connection with a HIPAA breach notification report.  On January 10, 2012, OCR received notification from the provider of remote mobile monitoring of and rapid response to patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias that a workforce member’s laptop with the ePHI of 1,391 individuals was stolen from a parked vehicle outside of the employee’s home. CardioNet subsequently notified OCR of a second breach of ePHI 2,219 individuals, respectively.

Likewise, the HIPAA breaches uncovered by OCR in the course of investigating these CardioNet breaches occur in the operations of many other covered entities.  According to the OCR’s investigation in response to these breach reports revealed a series of continuing compliance concerns, including:

  • CardioNet failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis to assess the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI and failed to plan for and implement security measures sufficient to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities;
  • CardioNet’s policies and procedures implementing the standards of the HIPAA Security Rule were in draft form and had not been implemented;
  • CardioNet was unable to produce any final policies or procedures regarding the implementation of safeguards for ePHI, including those for mobile devices;
  • CardioNet failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain electronic protected health information into and out of its facilities, the encryption of such media, and the movement of these items within its facilities until March 2015; and
  • CardioNet failed to safeguard against the impermissible disclosure of protected health information by its employees, thereby permitting access to that information by an unauthorized individual, and failed to take sufficient steps to immediately correct the disclosure.

To resolve these OCR charges, CardioNet agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay $2.5 million to OCR and implement a corrective action plan.  Among other things, the corrective action plan requires CardioNet to complete the following actions to the satisfaction of OCR:

  • Prepare a current, comprehensive and thorough Risk Analysis of security risks and vulnerabilities that incorporates its current facility or facilities and the electronic equipment, data systems, and applications controlled, currently administered or owned by CardioNet, that contain, store, transmit, or receive electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) and update that Risk Analysis annually or more frequently, if appropriate in response to environmental or operational changes affecting the security of ePHI.
  • Assess whether its existing security measures are sufficient to protect its ePHI and revise its Risk Management Plan, Policies and Procedures, and training materials and implement additional security measures, as needed.
  • Develop and implement an organization-wide Risk Management Plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities found in the Risk Analysis as required by the Risk Management Plan.
  • Review and, to the extent necessary, revise, its current Security Rule Policies and Procedures (“Policies and Procedures”) based on the findings of the Risk Analysis and the implementation of the Risk Management Plan to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule.
  • Provide certification to OCR that all laptops, flashdrives, SD cards, and other portable media devices are encrypted, together with a description of the encryption methods used (“Certification”).
  • Review, revise its HIPAA Security training to include a focus on security, encryption, and handling of mobile devices and out-of-office transmissions and other policies and practices require to address the issues identified in the Risk Assessment and otherwise comply with the Risk Management Plan and HIPAA train its workforce on these policies and practices.
  • Investigate all potential violations of its HIPAA policies and procedures and notify OCR in writing within 30 days of any violation.
  • Submit annual reports to OCR, which must be signed by an owner or officer of CardioNet attesting that he or she has reviewed the annual report, has made a reasonable inquiry regarding its content and believes that, upon such inquiry, the information is accurate and truthful.
  • Maintain for inspection and copying, and provide to OCR, upon request, all documents and records relating to compliance with the corrective action plan for six years.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

The latest in a rapidly-growing list of high dollar HIPAA enforcement actions by OCR, the CardioNet Resolution Agreement contains numerous lessons for other Covered entities and their business associates about the importance of appropriate HIPAA privacy and security compliance, including but not limited to the following:

  • Like many previous resolution agreements announced by OCR, the Resolution Agreement reiterates the responsibility of covered entities and business associates to properly secure their ePHI and that as part of this process, OCR expects all laptop computers and other mobile devices containing or with access to ePHI be properly encrypted and secured.
  • It also reminds covered entities and their business associates to be prepared for, and expect an audit from OCR when OCR receives a report that their organization experienced a large breach of unsecured ePHI.
  • The Resolution Agreement’s highlighting of the draft status of CardioNet’s privacy and security policies also reflects OCR expects covered entities  to actually final policies, procedures and training in place for maintaining compliance with HIPAA.
  • The discussion and requirements in the Corrective Action Plan relating to requirements to conduct comprehensive risk assessments at least annually and in response to other events, and to update policies and procedures in response to findings of these risk assessments also drives home the importance of conducting timely, documented risk analyses of the security of their ePHI, taking prompt action to address known risks and periodically updating the risk assessment and the associated privacy and security policies and procedures in response to the findings of the risk assessment and other changing events.
  • The requirement in the Resolution Agreement of leadership attestation and certification on the required annual report reflects OCR’s expectation that leadership within covered entities and business associates will make HIPAA compliance a priority and will take appropriate action to oversee compliance.
  • Finally, the $2.5 million settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement and its implementation against CardioNet makes clear that OCR remains serious about HIPAA enforcement.

Clearly, covered entities, business associates and their management should take steps to promptly review the adequacy of their organizations’ HIPAA compliance policies, practices and documentation in light of the deficiencies listed in the CardioNet and other HIPAA OCR settlements and civil monetary penalty assessments.  See e.g., Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements$400K HIPAA Penalty Teaches Risk Assessment Importance$3.2 Children’s HIPAA CMP Teaches Key Lessons.

Of course, covered entities and business associates need to keep in mind that acts, omissions and events that create HIPAA liability risks also carry many other potential legal and business risks.  For instance, since PHI records and data involved in such breaches usually incorporates Social Security Numbers, credit card or other debt or payment records or other personal consumer information, and other legally sensitive data, covered entities and business associates generally also may face investigation, notification and other responsibilities and liabilities under confidentiality, privacy or data security rules of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act, state identity theft, data security, medical confidentiality, privacy and ethics, insurance, consumer privacy, common law or other state privacy claims and a host of other federal or state laws.  Depending on the nature of the covered entity or its business associates, the breach or other privacy event also may trigger fiduciary liability exposures for health plan fiduciaries in the case of a health plan, professional ethics or licensing investigations or actions against health care providers, insurance companies, administrative service providers or brokers, shareholder or other investor actions, employment or vendor termination or disputes and a host of other indirect legal consequences.

Beyond, and regardless of if, a covered entity or business ultimately succeeds in defending its  actions against a charge of violating any of these or other standards, however, covered entities, business associates and their leaders should keep in mind that the most material and often most intractable consequences of a HIPAA or other data or other privacy breach report or public accusation, investigation, admission also typically are the most inevitable:

  • The intangible, but critical loss of trust and reputation covered entities and business associates inevitably incur among their patients, participants, business partners, investors and the community; and
  • The substantial financial expenses and administrative and operational disruptions of investigating, defending the actions of the organization and implementation of post-event corrective actions following a data or other privacy breach, audit, investigation, or charge.

In light of these risks, covered entities business associates and their management should use the experiences of CardioNet and other covered entities or business associates caught violating HIPAA or other privacy and security standards to reduce their HIPAA and other privacy and data security exposures.   Management of covered entities and their business associates should take steps to ensure that their organizations policies, practices and procedures currently are up-to-date, appropriately administered and monitored, and properly documented.  Management should ensure that their organizations carefully evaluate and strengthen as necessary their current HIPAA risk assessments, policies, practices, record keeping and retention and training in light of these and other reports as they are announced in a well-documented manner.  The focus of these activities should be both to maintain compliance and position their organizations efficiently and effectively to respond to and defend their actions against a data breach, investigation, audit or accusation of a HIPAA or other privacy or security rule violation with a minimum of liability, cost and reputational and operational damages.

As the conduct of these activities generally will involve the collection and analysis of legally sensitive matters, most covered entities and business associates will want to involve legal counsel experienced with these matters and utilize appropriate procedures to be able to use and assert attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges to mitigate risks associated with these processes.  To help plan for and mitigate foreseeable expenses of investigating, responding to or mitigating a known, suspected or asserted breech or other privacy event, most covered entities and business associates also will want to consider the advisability of tightening privacy and data security standards, notification, cooperation and indemnification protections in contracts between covered entities and business associates, acquiring or expanding data breach or other liability coverage, or other options for mitigating the financial costs of responding to a breach notification, investigation or enforcement action.

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 data security, privacy and breach laws.  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 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.

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.

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; an 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.


Stop Bullying Month Opportunity to Strengthen Workplace Anti-Harassment Efforts

October 28, 2016

Cyber and other bullying usually is discussed as a child protection concern.  However bullying of adults in the workplace also can be a big employment issue.

Applying the term “harassment” to adult bullying in the workplace allows most businesses to rapidly recognize need to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.

The connection between bullying and harassment is rapidly apparent from the definition of bullying.  The government website stopbullying.gov defines “bullying” as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

In employment or other adult environments, the word “harassment” typically is used instead of bullying to refer to aggressive unwarranted behavior against an adult.  Regardless of which term is used, bullying and harassment in workplaces and other communities is disruptive for the victims, co-workers, the employment or other community and those who interact with them.

Of course by now, all businesses and their leaders are legally accountable to know that the law generally requires businesses to prevent and protect their employees against harassment by management or other employees, customers, vendors and others with whom they do business on account of sex, sexual preference, race, age, disability, National origin, religion, whistleblower status, worker’s compensation or certain other benefit claims and the exercise of a host of other protected types of conduct.

Beyond the substantial legal exposures that businesses risk from harassment in the workplace, harassment or other pulling in the work place also inevitably creates other substantial operation costs for businesses by undermining job performance of bullying victims and others, undermining morale,  increasing employee turnover, creating distractions, increasing management demands, eroding trust and team work, and more.

To reduce their exposure to these legal and operational risks, most US businesses have policies, conduct training and investigations, and engage in a host of other anti-harassment activities.  Even with these efforts, however, effective prevention, detection and management of bullying and other harassment behaviors in most workplaces remains a challenge.  For this reason businesses and their management should constantly be on the watch for tips and tools ate them in this endeavor.

The United States government’s annual Stop Bullying Month observances each October provide an excellent opportunity for US businesses and employers to strengthen their anti-harassment risks and compliance by joining in the celebration in October and using the resources available in their anti-harassment efforts throughout the year.

Businesses also may want to take advantage of resources like stopbullying.gov that provide tips and training for identifying and addressing bullying of children and others requiring special protection.

Stopbullying.gov, for instance includes a multitude of resources for ParentsEducatorsCommunities, and others that can be reworked and applied and workplace and other business contexts.  Beyond these generally applicable tips, The website also includes videos and other materials addressing special topics like Cyberbullying and what to do about itSexual Preference Harassment and many others.

Human resources and other business leaders should check out these resources and leverage them to expand their tools and strengthen their anti-harassment efforts and risk management.

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 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 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 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 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 www.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 http://www.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 be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


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.

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 http://www.solutionslawpress.com such as:

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©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.  


Health Plans & Other HIPAA Entities Should Learn From $2.75M UMMC HIPAA Settlement

July 28, 2016

Employers, insurers and other health plan sponsors or issuers (health plans), health care providers, healthcare clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates should reevaluate the adequacy of their practices and procedures for the protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices in light of the $2.75 million penalty and other schooling the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) just gave the University of Mississippi (UM) Medical Center (UMMC) documented in a July 7, 2016 Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) resolving OCR charges of multiple violations of the privacy, security and breach notification requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) OCR says it uncovered while investigating UMMC’s breach notification report to OCR of the loss a laptop containing 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

UMMC Report of Missing Laptop Leads To Multiple Charges & Resolution Agreement

Mississippi’s sole public academic health science center, UMMC provides patient care in four specialized hospitals on the Jackson campus and at clinics throughout Jackson and the State as well as conducts medical education and research functions.  Its designated health care component, UMMC, includes University Hospital, the site of the breach in this case, located on the main UMMC campus in Jackson.

The settlement agreed to by UMMC stems from charges resulting from an OCR investigation of UMMC triggered by a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) affecting approximately 10,000 individuals.

Like many prior resolution agreements previously announced by OCR, UMMC’s HIPAA woes came to light after a laptop went missing.  OCR learned of the breach and opened its investigation in response to a March 21, 2013 notification UMMC filed with OCR.  UMMC made the breach notification to comply with HIPAA’s Breach Notification Rule requirement that health care providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) timely notify affected individuals, OCR and others of breaches of unsecured ePHI.

UMMC’s breach notification disclosed that UMMC’s privacy officer had discovered a password-protected laptop containing ePHI of thousands of UMMC patients missing from UMMC’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). UMMC additionally reported that based on its investigation, UMMC believed that the missing laptop likely was stolen by a visitor to the MICU who had inquired about borrowing one of the laptops.

After discovering the loss, UMMC disclosed the breach to local media and on its website and notified OCR of the breach but apparently did not individually notify the subjects of the missing ePHI.

In keeping with its announced policy of investigating all breach reports impacting 500 or more individuals, OCR opened an investigation into UMMC’s breach report.  Based on this investigation, OCR concluded that while the laptop apparently was password protected, UMMC had breached the Security Rules because ePHI stored on a UMMC network drive was vulnerable to unauthorized access via UMMC’s wireless network because users could use a generic username and password to access an active directory containing 67,000 files including 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

While OCR’s investigation confirmed that UMMC had implemented policies and procedures pursuant to the HIPAA Rules, OCR’s additionally found that the theft of the laptop that prompted UMMC’s breach report resulted from broad deficiencies in UMMC’s implementation and administration of these policies and its practices.

Based on these findings, OCR charged UMMC with the following HIPAA violations:

  • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, through the settlement date, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(i) by failing to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations, including conducting an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the ePHI it holds, and implementing security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level;
  • From January 19, 2013, until March 1, 2014, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.310(c) by failing to implement physical safeguards for all workstations that access ePHI to restrict access to authorized users;
  • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, to March 14, 2013, UM violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.312 (a)(2)(i) by failing to assign a unique user name and/or number for identifying and tracking user identity in information systems containing ePHI including, for example, allowing workforce members to access ePHI on a shared department network drive through a generic account, preventing UMMC from tracking which specific users were accessing ePHI; and
  • While UMMC provided notification on UMMC’s website and in local media outlets following the discovery of the reported breach of unsecured ePHI,, UMMC violated the Breach Notification Rule by failing to notify each individual whose unsecured ePHI was reasonably believed to have been accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of the breach.

Finally, OCR determined that UMMC was aware of risks and vulnerabilities to its systems as far back as April 2005, yet took no significant risk management activity until after the breach, due largely to organizational deficiencies and insufficient institutional oversight.

To resolve these charges, UMMC agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR $2.75 million and implement a comprehensive compliance plan which among other things, requires UMMC to conduct a sweeping review and correct its HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification policies and their implementation and administration to comply with HIPAA as well as implement and administer detailed management and OCR oversight and reporting processes over the implementation and administration of these procedures.

Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement contains several key lessons for other covered entities and their business associates, which OCR’s July 21, 2016 announcement warns other covered entities and business associates to heed..

Certainly, the $2.75 million settlement amount reaffirms that covered entities and their business associates risk substantial liability for failing to properly assess and protect the security of ePHI in accordance with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rule.

Furthermore, the charges and Resolution Agreement also adds a new twist to OCR’s now well established to stiffly sanction covered entities and their business associates that fail appropriately assess and address risks to the security of their ePHI on or accessible from laptops or other mobile devices. Through previous resolution agreements and guidance, OCR has made clear that it interprets the HIPAA Security Rule as generally requiring that covered entities and business associates encrypt all laptops or other mobile devices containing ePHI.  The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement makes clear that the responsibility to protect ePHI on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices does not end with encryption.  Rather, the Resolution Agreement makes clear that covered entities and their business associates also must take appropriate, well-documented steps to monitor, assess, identify, and timely and effectively address other potential risks to the security of the ePHI.

The Resolution Agreement makes clear that these additional responsibilities include, but are not necessarily limited to ensuring that proper safeguards are implemented and enforced to secure access not only to the ePHI contained on the laptop as well as other data bases and systems containing ePHI accessible through the laptop.  In this respect, the Resolution Agreement particularly highlights the need for covered entities and their business associates to assess risks and take appropriate steps:

  • To safeguard the physical security of laptops and other mobile devices;
  • To prevent the use of generic or other unsecure passwords to access ePHI on or accessible through the laptop or other mobile device;
  • To establish and administer appropriate, well-documented processes for assessing and addressing the adequacy of safeguards for and potential threats to the security of ePHI both initially and on an ongoing basis in a manner that meaningfully assesses the actual risks and effectiveness of safeguards against these risks, including those resulting from nonadherence to required safeguards and practices such as the sharing of passwords, changing systems or circumstances, and other developments that potentially threaten the adequacy of ePHI security.

Furthermore, OCR’s July 21, 2016 press release concerning the Resolution Agreement also sends a clear message to all covered entities and business associates that OCR views HIPAA as requiring organizations not only to adopt written policies and procedures that comply on paper or in theory with HIPAA, but also to take steps to monitor and maintain the effectiveness of their safeguard by continuously assessing and monitoring their HIPAA risks and acting as necessary to ensure that required safeguards of protected health information and ePHI and other HIPAA requirements are effectively implemented and administered in operation as well as form.

In OCR’s Press Release announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. Stated, “We at OCR remain particularly concerned with unaddressed risks that may lead to impermissible access to ePHI.”  She also warned “In addition to identifying risks and vulnerabilities to their ePHI, entities must also implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to address them within an appropriate time frame.”

Additionally, the Resolution Agreement also illustrates need for covered entities and business associates to timely provide all individual and other notifications and otherwise fully comply with all requirements of the Breach Notification Rules.

Since the risk of a breach is ever-present even for Covered Entities and business associates exercising the highest degree of care to safeguard PHI and maintain compliance with HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates are wise to take steps to position themselves to be able to demonstrate the adequacy of both their written policies and procedures and the effectiveness of their implementation and enforcement including ongoing documented practices for assessing, monitoring and addressing security risks and other compliance concerns as well as prepare to comply with the breach notification requirements in the event they experience their own breach of unsecured ePHI.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, former scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and JCEB Council Representative, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section,  the former Board President and Treasurer of the Richardson Development Center for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, and past  Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising healthcare, health plan and other health industry and others on these and other regulatory, workforce, risk management, technology, public policy and operations matters as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” by D Magazine.

Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is known for her experience in HIPAA and other privacy and data security and breach concerns.  The scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, 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 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. 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, 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 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, 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. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

You can get more information about her health industry experience here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

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For important information concerning this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


DOL Employer & Employee Benefit Fines Going Up

July 1, 2016

Employers, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and others caught violating Federal employment, employee benefit, and a wide range of other laws and regulations ranging from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA),  and many other Federal Labor and employment laws should brace for increased civil penalties and other changes in the calculation of these penalties under interium rules just released by the DOL.  Employers and other parties must comply with these rules but if concerned with these Interium Rules, will have 45 days to comment before DOL will publish  any final rule.

In 2015, Congress passed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act, which requires the Department of Labor (DOL) and other agencies adjust their penalties for inflation each year.
In response to this mandate, the DOL has published two interim final rules to adjust its penalties for inflation effective August 1:

Both rules define rules that DOL plans to use to apply the 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act’s formula on how to determine the proper adjustment for each penalty effective August 1, 2016 to civil penalties that DOL can assess against employers for violations.

The new method will adjust penalties for inflation, though the amount of the increase is capped at 150 percent of the existing penalty amount. The baseline is the last increase other than for inflation. The new civil penalty amounts are applicable only to civil penalties assessed after August 1, 2016, whose associated violations occurred after Nov. 2, 2015.

The rules published under the 2015 law will increase some penalties that DOL perceives have lost ground to inflation including:

  • OSHA’s maximum penalties, which have not been raised since 1990, will increase by 78 percent. The top penalty for serious violations will rise from $7,000 to $12,471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,709.
  • OWCP’s penalty for failure to report termination of payments made under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, has only increased $10 since 1927, and will rise from $110 to $275.
  • WHD’s penalty for willful violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act will increase from $1,100 to $1,894.

A list of each agency’s individual penalty adjustments is available here.

In addition to increasing its civil penalties, the DOL has indicated that in response to these changes, it will update the  FLSA Minimum Wage Poster and other required labor posters before the August 1, 2016 effective date.

Since these  impending increases raise the civil penalty exposures for employers in the most heavily enforced by the DOL, employers now have an even greater need to tighten their compliance and risk management practices under these laws.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecture and policy advocate, recognized for her nearly 30-years of cutting edge management work as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Health Care” by D Magazine.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and , 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.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, expat and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting and other JCEB agency meetings. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, 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 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. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer serves on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and as an editorial advisor and contributing author of many other publications. Her leadership involvements with the American Bar Association (ABA) include year’s serving many years as a Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; ABA RPTE Section current Practice Management Vice Chair and Substantive Groups & Committees Committee Member, RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee Past Group Chair and Diversity Award Recipient, current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, and past Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Chair Co-Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; International Section Life Sciences Committee Policy Vice Chair; and a speaker, contributing author, comment chair and contributor to numerous Labor, Tax, RPTE, Health Law, TIPS, International and other Section publications, programs and task forces. Other selected service involvements of note include Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; past EO Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former Southwest Benefits Association Board of Directors member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer; former Texas Association of Business BACPAC Committee Member, Executive Committee member, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Society of Human Resources Region 4 Chair and Consultants Forum Board Member and Dallas HR Public Policy Committee Chair; former National Board Member and Dallas Chapter President of Web Network of Benefit Professionals; former Dallas Business League President and others. 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 control 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 including:

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  • Frontier Says “Conversion Issues” for
  • Obama Offers Grants To States To Boost Paid Leave Availability With State Grants
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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. ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™. All other rights reserved.


Brace For Health Plan OCR HIPAA Audits

March 22, 2016

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Employer and union sponsored health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, and business associates should brace for audits and enforcement of the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules by the Department of Health & Human Service Office of Civil Rights (OCR) follow OCR’s 2016 audit program on the heels of its announcement last week of two large HIPAA settlements last week.

OCR confirmed today it is sending emails notifying health plans, healthcare providers, healthcare clearing houses (Covered Entities) and their business associates identified as part of the kickoff of its next phase of audits of Covered Entities.  In light of the  HIPAA verification rules  and the notorious spread of opportunistic identity theft and other fraud by opportunistic Cybercriminals following these types of announcements, Covered Entities and business associates should carefully verify the requests validity and manage the response to avoid violating HIPAA in responding and position for defensibility against potential penalties.

Even if health plans or other Covered Entities reviewed their practices in the last 12-months, most will want to update this review in response to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, including new guidance on obligations to provide plan members or other subjects of protected health information with access to or copies of their records and other guidance, as well as the ever-expanding list of enforcement actions by OCR.

To catch up on this latest guidance, Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ invites you to register to participate in a special WebEx briefing on “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

2016 Audit Program 

In its 2016 Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Program, OCR will review the policies and procedures adopted and employed by Covered Entities  and their business associates to meet selected standards and implementation specifications of the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules. OCR says it will primarily conduct these audits as desk audits, although some on-site audits will be conducted.

According to today’s announcement, the 2016 audit process begins with verification of an entity’s address and contact information. OCR is sending emails to Covered Entities and business associates requesting that contact information be provided to OCR on time. OCR will then send a pre-audit questionnaire to gather data about the size, type, and operations of potential audit targets.  OCR says this data will be used with other information to create potential audit subject pools.  Recipients should contact qualified legal counsel immediately for advice and assistance about proper procedures to verify the email is in fact from OCR and for assistance in responding.

If an entity does not respond to OCR’s request to verify its contact information or pre-audit questionnaire, OCR will use publicly available information about the entity to create its audit subject pool. Therefore an entity that does not respond to OCR may still be selected for an audit or subject to a compliance review. Communications from OCR will be sent via email and may be incorrectly classified as spam. If your entity’s spam filtering and virus protection are automatically enabled, OCR expects entities to check their junk or spam email folder for emails from OCR.

The announcement also reflects that OCR is still developing other aspects of the audit program. OCR will post updated audit protocols on its website closer to conducting the 2016 audits. The audit protocol will be updated to reflect the HIPAA Omnibus Rulemaking and can be used as a tool by organizations to conduct their own internal self-audits as part of their HIPAA compliance activities.

OCR says its audits will enhance industry awareness of compliance obligations and enable OCR to better target technical assistance regarding problems identified through the audits. Through the information gleaned from the audits, OCR will develop tools and guidance to aid the industry in compliance self-evaluation and in preventing breaches. OCR plans to use results and procedures used in the phase 2 audits to develop its permanent HIPAA audit program.

OCR Settlements Show Enforcement Risk

The audit program announcement comes less than a week after OCR announced millions of dollars of new penalties under settlements with two Covered Entities:

  • A $1,555,000 settlement with North Memorial Health Care of Minnesota;
  • A $3.9 million settlement with Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

The two settlements drive home again the substantial liability that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates risk for violating HIPAA.

Feinstein Settlement

Feinstein is a biomedical research institute organized as a New York not-for-profit corporation sponsored by Northwell Health, Inc., formerly known as North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, a large health system headquartered in Manhasset, New York comprised of 21 hospitals and over 450 patient facilities and physician practices.

OCR’s investigation began after Feinstein filed a breach report indicating that on September 2, 2012, a laptop computer containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 13,000 patients and research participants was stolen from an employee’s car. The ePHI stored in the laptop included the names of research participants, dates of birth, addresses, social security numbers, diagnoses, laboratory results, medications, and medical information about potential participation in a research study.

OCR’s investigation discovered that Feinstein’s security management process was limited in scope, incomplete, and insufficient to address potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI held by the entity. Further, Feinstein lacked policies and procedures for authorizing access to ePHI by its workforce members, failed to implement safeguards to restrict access to unauthorized users, and lacked policies and procedures to govern the receipt and removal of laptops that contained ePHI into and out of its facilities. For electronic equipment procured outside of Feinstein’s standard acquisition process, Feinstein failed to implement proper mechanisms for safeguarding ePHI as required by the Security Rule.

“Research institutions subject to HIPAA must be held to the same compliance standards as all other HIPAA-covered entities,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. “For individuals to trust in the research process and for patients to trust in those institutions, they must have some assurance that their information is kept private and secure.”

The resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found on the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/Feinstein/index.html.

North Memorial

The Feinstein settlement announcement follows yesterday’s announcement of a $1.5 million plus settlement with North Memorial to resolve HIPAA charges that it failed to implement a business associate agreement with a major contractor and failed to institute an organization-wide risk analysis to address the risks and vulnerabilities to its patient information. North Memorial is a comprehensive, not-for-profit health care system in Minnesota that serves the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.

The settlement highlights the importance for healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates to comply with HIPAA’s business associate agreement and other HIPAA organizational, risk assessment, privacy and security, and other requirements.

OCR’s announcement emphasizes the importance of meeting these requirements. “Two major cornerstones of the HIPAA Rules were overlooked by this entity,” said Director Samuels. “Organizations must have in place compliant business associate agreements as well as an accurate and thorough risk analysis that addresses their enterprise-wide IT infrastructure.”

The settlement comes from charges filed after OCR initiated its investigation of North Memorial following receipt of a breach report on September 27, 2011, which indicated that an unencrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from a business associate’s workforce member’s locked vehicle, impacting the ePHI of 9,497 individuals.

OCR’s investigation indicated that North Memorial failed to have in place a business associate agreement, as required under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, so that its business associate could perform certain payment and health care operations activities on its behalf. North Memorial gave its business associate, Accretive, access to North Memorial’s hospital database, which stored the ePHI of 289,904 patients. Accretive also received access to non-electronic protected health information as it performed services on-site at North Memorial.

The investigation further determined that North Memorial failed to complete a risk analysis to address all of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the ePHI that it maintained, accessed, or transmitted across its entire IT infrastructure — including but not limited to all applications, software, databases, servers, workstations, mobile devices and electronic media, network administration and security devices, and associated business processes.

In addition to the $1,550,000 payment, North Memorial is required to develop an organization-wide risk analysis and risk management plan, as required under the Security Rule. North Memorial will also train appropriate workforce members on all policies and procedures newly developed or revised pursuant to this corrective action plan.

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be found on the HHS website at: http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/north-memorial-health-care/index.html.
Settlement Latest Reminder To Manage HIPAA Risks.

Following up on OCR’s imposition of its second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) and the latest in an ever-growing list of settlements by Covered Entities under HIPAA, these latest  settlements illustrate the substantial liability that Covered Entities face for violating HIPAA. To avoid these liabilities, Covered Entities must constantly be diligent to comply with the latest guidance of OCR about their obligations under HIPAA.

As OCR continues to issue additional guidance as well as supplement this guidance through information shared in settlement agreements like the North Memorial settlement, even if Covered Entities reviewed their practices in the last 12-months, most will want to update this review in response to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, including new guidance on obligations to provide plan members or other subjects of protected health information with access to or copies of their records and other guidance, as well as the ever-expanding list of enforcement actions by OCR.

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) amended HIPAA, Covered Entities face growing responsibilities and liability for maintaining the security of ePHI.

In response to HITECH, OCR continues to use a carrot and stick approach to encouraging and enforcing compliance. As demonstrated by OCR’s imposition of the second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of $239,000 against Lincare and the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements OCR announces with other Covered Entities, OCR continues to step up enforcement against Covered Entities that breach the Privacy and Security Rules. See OCR’s 2nd-Ever HIPAA CMP Nails Lincare For $239,000.

On the other hand, OCR also continues to encourage voluntary compliance by Covered Entities by sharing guidance and tools to aid Covered Entities to understand fulfill their HIPAA responsibilities such as the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016.The crosswalk that maps the HIPAA Security Rule to the standards of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (the Cybersecurity Framework) as well as mappings to certain other commonly used security frameworks.

While stating that the HIPAA Security Rule does not require use of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, OCR says it hopes the Crosswalk will provide “a helpful roadmap” for HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates to understand the overlap between the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the HIPAA Security Rule, and other security frameworks that can help Covered Entities safeguard health data in a time of increasing risks and help them to identify potential gaps in their programs.

At the same time, OCR’s announcement of its release of the Crosswalk also cautions users that “use of the Framework does not guarantee HIPAA compliance.” Rather, OCR says “the crosswalk provides an informative tool for entities to use to help them more comprehensively manage security risks in their environments.

With a USA Today report attributing more than 40 percent of data breaches to the healthcare industry over the last three years 91 percent of all health organizations having reporting breaches over the last two years, OCR has made clear that it intends to zealously investigate and enforce the Security Rules against Covered Entities that violate the Security Rules against Covered Entities that fail to take suitable steps to safeguard the security of PHI as required by the HIPAA Security Rule.

To meet these requirements, the HIPAA Security Rule requires that Covered Entities conduct and be prepared to product documentation of their audit and other efforts to comply with the Security Rule Most Covered Entities will want to consider including an assessment of the adequacy of their existing practices under the Crosswalk and other requirements disclosed by OCR in these assessments to help position the Covered Entity to defend or mitigate HIPAA CMP and other liabilities in the event of a HIPAA breech or audit.

Changing Rules Complicate Compliance

In addition to maintaining adequate security, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to provide individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from their providers, hospitals, and health insurance plans in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. In response to recurrent difficulties experienced by individuals in exercising these rights, OCR recently published supplemental guidance to clarify and promote better understanding and compliance with these rules by Covered Entities.   OCR started this process in January, 2015 by releasing a comprehensive fact sheet (Access fact sheet) and the first in a series of topical frequently asked questions (FAQs) addressing patients’ right to access their medical records, which set forth requirements providers must follow in sharing medical records with patients, including that they must do so in a timely manner and in a format that works for the patient.

Earlier this month, OCR followed up by publishing on March 1, 2016 a second set of FAQs addresses additional issues, including the fees individuals may be charged for copies of their health information and the right of individuals to have their health information sent directly to a third party if they so choose.

Covered entities and their business associates should expect OCR to ask about use of these tools in audits and investigations.  Accordingly, they should move quickly to review and update their business associate agreements and other practices to comply with this new guidance as well as watch for further guidance and enforcement about these practices from OCR.

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

OCR’s new guidance on access to PHI follows a host of other regulatory and enforcement activities. While the particulars of each of these new actions and guidance vary, all send a very clear message: OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates to comply with HIPAA and is offering tools and other guidance to aid them in that process. In the event of a breach or audit, Covered Entities and their business associates need to be prepared to demonstrate their efforts to comply.

Those that cannot show adequate compliance efforts should be prepared for potentially substantial CMP or Resolution Agreement payments and other sanctions.

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites to catch up on the latest guidance on the Covered Entities’ responsibility under HIPAA to provide access to patients to PHI by registering here to participate in the “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” Webex briefing by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer that Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ will host beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her extensive work and pragmatic thought leadership, experience, publications and training on HIPAA and other privacy, medical records and data and other health care and health plan concerns.
Recognized as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” an “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits 2015 by D Magazine; Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years of extensive proven, pragmatic knowledge and experience representing and advising health industry clients and others on operational, regulatory and other compliance, risk management, product and process development, public policy and other key concerns.

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year 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 defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

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 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, 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 the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC 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 www.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 be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.  ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


HIPAA Settlement Warns Health Plans, Sponsoring Employers & Business Associates To Manage HIPAA Risks

July 11, 2015

Health plans, insurers and other health plan industry service providers widespread use and reliance on internet applications to access and share protected health information when performing online enrollment, claims administration and payment, reporting, member and provider communications and a host of other key health plan functions makes it particularly important for health plans, their employer or other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and other vendors and their management to respond quickly to a warning from Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) warning to ensure applications and systems properly safeguard protected health information (PHI) as required by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability (HIPAA) Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rules (HIPAA Rules) and other laws made in its July 10, 2015 announcement of its latest HIPAA settlement.

The new Resolution Agreement with the Massachusetts based hospital system, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center (SEMC) settles charges OCR made that SEMC reached HIPAA by failing to protect the security of PHI when using internet applications to access and share PHI. The Resolution Agreement also shows how complaints filed with OCR by workforce members can create additional compliance headaches for Covered Entities or their business associates while the “robust corrective action plan” imposed under the Resolution Agreement shares examples of ladder reporting and management oversight and documentation Covered Entities and business associates can expect to need to prove their organizations maintains the “culture of compliance” with HIPAA OCR expects in the event of an OCR audit or investigation.

With recent reports on massive health plan HIPAA and other data breaches fueling widespread participant and regulatory concern over identity theft and other data security, Covered Entities and their business associates should prepare to defend the adequacy of their own HIPAA and other data security practices in the event of an OCR breach investigation or audit. Accordingly, health plans and their employer or other sponsors, health plan fiduciaries, health plan vendors acting as business associates and others dealing with health plans and their management should contact legal counsel experienced in these matters for advice within the scope of attorney-client privilege about how to respond to the OCR warning and other developments to manage their HIPAA and other privacy and data security legal and operational risks and liabilities.

SEMC Resolution Agreement Overview

The SEMC Resolution Agreement settles OCR charges that SEMC violated HIPAA stemming from an OCR investigation of a November 16, 2012 complaint by SEMC workforce members and a separate data breach report SEMC separately made to OCR of a breach of unsecured electronic PHI (ePHI) stored on a former SEMC workforce member’s personal laptop and USB flash drive affecting 595 individuals. In their complaint, SEMC workers complained SEMC violated HIPAA by allowing workforce members to use an internet-based document sharing application to share and store documents containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) of at least 498 individuals without adequately analyzing the risks. OCR says its investigation of the complaint and breach report revealed among other things that:

  • SEMC improperly disclosed the PHI of at least 1,093 individuals;
  • SEMC failed to implement sufficient security measures regarding the transmission of and storage of ePHI to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level; and
  • SEMC failed to timely identify and respond to a known security incident, mitigate the harmful effects of the security incident, and document the security incident and its outcome.

To resolve OCR’s charges, SMCS agreed to pay $218,400 to OCR and implement a “robust corrective action plan” to correct these alleged HIPAA violations. While the required settlement payment is relatively small, the Resolution Agreement’s focus security requirements for internet application and data use and sharing activities engaged in by virtually every Covered Entity and business associate make the Resolution Agreement merit the immediate attention of all Covered Entities, their business associates and their management.

SEMC HIPAA Specific Compliance Lessons For Health Plans & Business Associates

In announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels sent a clear warning to all Covered Entities and their business associates “to pay particular attention to HIPAA’s requirements when using internet-based document sharing applications,” stating “In order to reduce potential risks and vulnerabilities, all workforce members must follow all policies and procedures, and entities must ensure that incidents are reported and mitigated in a timely manner.”

The Resolution Agreement makes clear that OCR expects health plans and other Covered Entities and their business associates to be able to show both their timely investigation of reported or suspected HIPAA susceptibilities or violations as well as to self-audit and spot test HIPAA compliance in their operations. The SEMC corrective action plan also indicates Covered Entities and business associates must be able to produce documentation and other evidence needed to show the top to bottom dedication to HIPAA compliance necessary to prove a “culture of compliance” with HIPAA permeates their organizations.

In light of OCR’s warning and expectations, Covered Entities and business associates should start by considering the advisability for their own organization to take one or more of the steps outlined in the “robust corrective action plan” included in the Resolution Agreement, starting with the specific steps the corrective action plan requires SEMC to address its internet application security concerns such as:

  • Conducting self-audits and spot checks of workforce members’ familiarity and compliance with HIPAA policies and procedures on transmitting ePHI using unauthorized networks; storing ePHI on unauthorized information systems, including unsecured networks and devices; removal of ePHI from SEMC; prohibition on sharing accounts and passwords for ePHI access or storage; encryption of portable devices that access or store ePHI; security incident reporting related to ePHI; and
  • Inspecting laptops, smartphones, storage media and other portable devices, workstations and other devices containing ePHI and other data devices and systems and their use; and
  • Conducting other tests and audits of security and compliance with policies, processes and procedures; and
  • Documenting results, findings, and corrective actions including appropriate up the ladder reporting and management oversight of these and other HIPAA compliance expectations, training and other efforts.

Broader HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management Lessons

Beyond the specific internet applications and other security of ePHI lessons in the Resolution Agreement, Covered Entities and their business associates also should be mindful of other more subtle, but equally important broader HIPAA compliance and risk management lessons provided in the Resolution Agreement and other recent OCR guidance about their overall HIPAA compliance responsibilities.

One of the most significant of these lessons is the need for proper workforce training, oversight and management. The Resolution Agreement sends an undeniable message that OCR expects Covered Entities, business associates and their leaders to be able to show their effective oversight and management of the operational compliance of their systems and members of their workforce with HIPAA policies. The SEMC corrective action plan should prompt Covered Entities and business associates to weigh the adequacy of their existing workforce training, reporting, investigation and other management processes and documentation. Meanwhile, OCR’s report that an OCR complaint made by SEMC insiders to OCR prompted its investigation also should sensitize Covered Entities and their business associates of the need to ensure that their workforce training and management processes are appropriate to position their organization both to show their processes encourage proper internal reporting and investigation of compliance concerns, as well as manage the inevitable HIPAA and other human resources retaliation and whistleblower exposures that can arise out of such reports.

The Resolution Agreement also provides insights to the internal corporate processes and documentation of compliance efforts that Covered Entities and business associates may need to show their organization has the required “culture of compliance” needed to mitigate consequences of breaches or other compliance glitches. Particularly notable are Resolution Agreement’s terms on the documentation and up the ladder reporting to management and OCR of SEMC’s self-audit and self-correction activities and management oversight and management of these activities. Like tips shared by HHS in the recently released Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight, these details in the Resolution Agreement provide invaluable tips to Boards and other leaders of Covered Entities and business associates about steps they can take to promote their ability to demonstrate their organizations have the necessary culture of HIPAA compliance OCR expects.

Health Plan HIPAA Compliance Risks & Responsibilities of Employers & Their Leaders

While HIPAA places the primary duty for complying with HIPAA on Covered Entities and business associates, health plan sponsors and their management still need to make HIPAA compliance a priority for many practical and legal reasons.

As employers forced to cope with the deluge of fears and questions of employees and other health plan members impacted by recent massive PHI breach reports shared by Blue Cross association health insurance plan giants, Anthem and Premera can attest, HIPAA data breach or other compliance reports often trigger significant financial, administrative, workforce satisfaction and other operational costs employer health plan sponsors. Inevitable employee concern about health plan data breaches undermines employee value and satisfaction of the health benefit plan as an employee benefit. These concerns also usually require employers to expend significant management and financial resources to respond to these concerns and address other employer fallout from the breach.

The costs of investigation and redress of a known or suspected HIPAA data or other breach typically far exceed the actual damages to participants resulting from the breach. While HIPAA technically does not make sponsoring employers directly responsible for these duties or the costs of their performance, as a practical matter sponsoring employers typically can expect to pay costs and other expenses that its health plan incurs to investigate and redress a HIPAA breach. For one thing, except in the all too rare circumstances where employers as plan sponsors have specifically negotiated more favorable indemnification and liability provisions in their vendor contracts, employer and other health plan sponsors usually agree in their health plan vendor contracts to pay the expenses and to indemnify health plan insurers, third party administrators, and other vendors for costs and liabilities arising from HIPAA breaches or other events arising in the course of the administration of the health plan. Since employers typically are obligated to pay health plan costs in excess of participant contributions, employers also typically would be required to provide the funding their health plan needs to cover these costs even in the absence of such indemnification agreements.

Sponsoring employers and their management also should be aware the employer’s exception from direct liability for HIPAA Rule compliance does not fully insulate the employer or its management from legal risks in the event of a health plan data breach or other HIPAA violation.

While HIPAA generally limits direct responsibility for compliance with the HIPAA Rules to a health plan or other Covered Entity and their business associates, HIPAA hybrid entity and other organizational rules and criminal provisions of HIPAA, as well as various other federal laws arguably could create liability risks for the employer. See, e.g., Cyber Liability, Healthcare: Healthcare Breaches: How to Respond; Restated HIPAA Regulations Require Health Plans to Tighten Privacy Policies and Practices; Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond. For example, hybrid entity and other organizational provisions in the HIPAA Rules generally require employers and their health plan to ensure that health plan operations are appropriately distinguished from other employer operations in order for otherwise non-covered human resources, accounting or other employer activities to avoid subjecting their otherwise non-covered employer operations and data to HIPAA Rules. To achieve this required designation and separation, the HIPAA rules typically also require that the health plan include specific HIPAA language and the employer and health plan take appropriate steps to designate and separate health plan records and data, workforces, and operations from the non-covered business operations and records of the sponsoring employer. Failure to fulfill these requirements could result in the unintended spread of HIPAA restrictions and liabilities to other aspects of the employer’s human resources or other operations. Sponsoring employers will want to confirm that health plan and other operations and workforces are properly designated, distinguished and separated to reduce this risk.

When putting these designations and separations in place, employers also generally will want to make arrangements to ensure that their health plan includes the necessary terms and the employer implements the policies necessary for the employer to provide the certifications to the health plan that HIPAA will require that the health plan receive before HIPAA will allow health plan PHI to disclosed to the employer or its representative for the limited underwriting and other specified plan administration purposes permitted by the HIPAA Rules.

Once these arrangements are in place, employers and their management also generally will want to take steps to minimize the risk that their organization or a member of the employer’s workforce honors these arrangements and does not improperly access or use health plan PHI, systems in violation of these conditions or other HIPAA Rules. This or other wrongful use or access of health plan PHI or systems could violate criminal provisions of HIPAA or other federal laws making it a crime for any person – including the employer or a member of its workforce – from wrongfully accessing health plan PHI, electronic records or systems. Since health plan PHI records also typically include personal tax, social security information that the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act and other federal laws generally would require the employer to keep confidential and to protect against improper use, employers and their management also generally should be concern about potential exposures for their organization that could result from improper use or access of this information in violation of these other federal laws. Since HIPAA and some of these other laws under certain conditions make it a felony crime to violate these rules, employer and their management generally will want to treat compliance with these federal rules as critical elements of the employer’s Federal Sentencing Guideline and other compliance programs.

Beyond the already discussed concerns, employers or members of their management also may have an incentive to promote health plan compliance with HIPAA or other health plan privacy or data security requirements to many the exposure of the employer or management or other staff to statutory, regulatory, contractual or ethical liabilities arising under ERISA, Internal Revenue Code, the Fair & Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), trade secret, insurance, disability, identity theft, cybersecurity or other federal or state laws.

For instance, health plan sponsors and management involved in health plan decisions, administration or oversight could face personal fiduciary liability risks under ERISA for failing to act prudently to ensure that the health plan compliance with HIPAA and other federal privacy and data security requirements.. ERISA’s broad functional fiduciary definition encompasses both persons and entities appointed as “named” fiduciaries and others who functionally exercise discretion or control over a plan or its administration. Consequently, the sponsoring employer and certain members of its human resources or other executive management team who functionally possess or exercise responsibility or authority over the administration of the employer’s health plan or its data or other assets, the selection or oversight of plan fiduciaries, vendors, or other workforce members its administration, or other key health plan operations risk ERISA fiduciary liability for their own failures to act prudently in carrying out HIPAA compliance or other responsibilities or to take action when they know or should know that another fiduciary is or has breached these duties. This fiduciary status and risk can occur even if the entity or individual does not is not named a named fiduciary, expressly disclaims fiduciary responsibility or does not realize it bears fiduciary status or responsibility. Since fiduciaries generally bear personal liability for their own breaches of fiduciary duty as well as potential co-fiduciary liability for fiduciary breaches committed by others that they knew or prudently should have known, most employers and members of their management will make HIPAA health plan compliance a priority to avoid or minimize these potential ERISA fiduciary exposures.

Furthermore, most employers and their management also will appreciate the desirability of taking reasonable steps to manage potential exposures that the employer or members of its management could face if their health plan or the employer violates the anti-retaliation rules of HIPAA or other laws through the adoption and administration of appropriate human resources, internal investigation and reporting, risk management policies and practices. See Employee & Other Whistleblower Complaints Common Source of HIPAA Privacy & Other Complaints.

Act To Manage HIPAA & Other Related Risks

OCR’s release of the Resolution Agreement on the heels of widespread publicity about massive health plan and other data breaches at Blue Cross health care giants, Anthem and Premera and other U.S. businesses and the potential legal and financial exposures that a HIPAA data breach or other violation could create, health plans and their sponsors, insurers, business associates, and leaders should appreciate the advisability of acting promptly to ensure that their health plans and business associates are taking appropriate steps to comply with the HIPAA Rules and manage other associated risks and liabilities. At minimum, health plans and their business associates should move quickly to conduct a documented assessment of the adequacy of their health plan internet applications and other HIPAA compliance in in light of the Resolution Agreement and other developments. Given the scope and diversity of the legal responsibilities, risks and exposures associated with this analysis, most health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, business associates and their management also will want to consider taking other steps to mitigate various other legal and operational risks that lax protection or use of health plan PHI or systems could create for their health plan, its sponsors, fiduciaries, business associates and their management. Health plan fiduciaries, sponsors and business associates and their leaders also generally will want to explore options to use indemnification agreements, liability insurance or other risk management tools as a stop gap against the costs of investigation or defense of a HIPAA security or other data breach.

For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 27 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health and other employee benefit, human resources, and related insurance, health care, privacy and data security and tax matters and policy.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus 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 management operations 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.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. In these and other engagements, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, 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 enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs 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, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, 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 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. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of 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 may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.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 be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


Tell Congress to protect wellness programs against EEOC attacks

January 28, 2015

The EEOC has declared war on many employer sponsored wellness programs. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing about how to improve employer wellness programs on Thursday, January 29. Employers and others should urge the Committee and other Congressional leaders to overrule the EEOC’s attacks on wellness programs as illegal disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Stamer Kicks Off Dallas HR 2015 Monthly Lunch Series With 2015 Federal Legislative, Regulatory & Enforcement Update

November 10, 2014

Human resources and other management leaders are watching Washington to see if the change in Congressional control resulting from the November 4, 2014 mid-term election ushers in a more management friendly federal legal environment. Since President Obama took office, the Democrats aggressive pursuit of health care, minimum wage and other federal pro-labor legislation, regulations and enforcement has increased management responsibilities, costs and liabilities.

Nationally recognized management attorney, public policy advisor and advocate, author and lecturer Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help human resources and other management leaders prepare for 2015 when she speaks on “2015 Federal Legislative, Regulatory & Enforcement Update: What HR & Benefit Leaders Should Expect & Do Now” at the 2015 Dallas HR monthly luncheon series kickoff meeting on January 13, 2014.

About The Program

While November 4, 2014 Republican election victories gave Republicans a narrow majority in both the House and Senate when the new Congress takes office January 3, 2015, the new Republican Majority may face significant challenges delivering on their promises to move quickly to enact more business-friendly health care, guest worker, tax and other key reforms Republicans say will boost the employment and the economy.

While President Obama and Democrat Congressional leaders say they plan to work with the new majority, President Obama already is threatening to use vetoes, regulations and executive orders to block Republicans from obstructing or rolling back his pro-labor policy and enforcement agenda.   When the new Congress takes office, the narrowness of the Republican Majority in the Senate means Republicans can’t block a Democratic filibuster or override a Presidential veto without recruiting some Democratic support.

As the Democrats and Republicans head into battle again, Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney and public policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help human resources and other management leaders get oriented for the year ahead by sharing her insights and predictions on the legislative, regulatory and enforcement agendas that HR, benefit and other business leaders need to plan for and watch in 2015.  Among other things, Ms. Stamer will:

  • Discuss how management can benefit from monitoring and working to influence potential legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments when planning and administering HR and related workforce policies;
  • Discuss the key workforce and other legislative, regulatory and enforcement priorities and proposals Democrats and Republicans plan to pursue during 2015;
  • Share her insights and predictions about how the narrow Republican majority, Mr. Obama’s lame duck presidency and other factors could impact each Party’s ability to pursue its agenda
  • Share tips management leaders can use to help monitor developments and to help shape legislation, regulation and enforcement through Dallas HR, SHRM and other organizations as well as individually;
  • Learn tips for anticipating and maintaining flexibility to respond to legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments; and
  • More

To register or get more details about the program, DallasHR, or both, see http://www.dallashr.org.

About Ms. Stamer

Board certified labor and employment attorney, public policy leader, author, speaker Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized and valued for her more than 25 years of work advising and representing employers, insurers, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and advisors, business and community leaders and governments about workforce, employee benefits, social security and pension, health and insurance, immigration and other performance and risk management, public policy and related regulatory and public policy, management and other operational concerns.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer continuously both has helped businesses and their management to monitor and respond to federal and state legislative, regulatory and enforcement concerns and to anticipate and shape federal, state and other laws, regulations, and enforcement in the United States and internationally.

Well known for her leadership on workforce, health and pension policy through her extensive work with clients as well as through her high profile involvements as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board member of the Alliance for Health Care Excellence, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Association (ABA), and the State Bar of Texas leadership and other involvements with the ABA including her annual service leading the annual agency meeting of Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) representatives with the HHS Office of Civil Rights and participation in other JCEB agency meetings, past involvements with legislative affairs for the Texas Association of Business and Dallas HR and others, and many speeches, publications, and other educational outreach efforts, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with Congress and federal and state regulators on the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, immigration, tax and other workforce-related legislative and regulatory reforms for more than 30 years. One of the primary drafters of the Bolivian Social Security reform law and a highly involved leader on U.S. workforce, benefits, immigration and health care policy reform, Ms. Stamer’s experience also includes working with U.S. and foreign government, trade association, private business and other organizations to help reform other countries’ and U.S. workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Ms. Stamer also contributes her policy, regulatory and other leadership to many professional and civic organizations including as Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, a Substantive Groups & Committee Member; a member of the leadership council of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; the current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, and the past Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division.

The publisher and editor of Solutions Law Press, Inc. who serves on the Editorial Advisory Boards of Employee Benefit News, HR.com, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other publications, Ms. Stamer also is a prolific and highly respected author and speaker,  National Public Radio, CBS, NBC, and other national and regional news organization, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs, HealthLeaders, Telemundo, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, CEO Magazine, CFO Magazine, CIO Magazine, the Houston Business Journal, and many other prominent news and publications.  She also serves as a planning faculty member and regularly conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns for these and a diverse range of other organizations. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com.

For Added Information and Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For Help Or More Information

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters.Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on 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 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 or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


IRS Guidance Raises Concerns For Many Employers Offering “Skinny” & Other Limited Coverage Health Plans

November 4, 2014

Learn More Details By Participating In November 13, 2014 WebEx Briefing

Employers of 100 or more full-time employees that plan currently offering or planning to offer after November 4, 2014 health plans with mandate only or other “skinny” plan designs which do not provide “substantial coverage” for both in-patient hospitalization and physician services should re-evaluate the implications of their proposed plan design as well as existing and planned employee enrollment or other communications about those plans, in light of the new guidance provided by Notice 2014-69 released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today.  Learn all the details about this new guidance and its implication by participating in our November 13 , 2014 briefing.

Plans Must Provide “Substantial Coverage” for Both In-Patient Hospitalization & Physician Services To Provide Minimum Value

Notice 2014-69 makes it official that the Department of Treasury (including the IRS) and Department of Health and Human Services (collectively the Departments)  believe that group health plans that fail to provide substantial coverage for in-patient hospitalization services or for physician services (or for both) (referred to in the Notice as Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plans) do not provide the “minimum value” necessary to fulfill the minimum value requirements of Code §36B and 4080H(b).

The Notice also notifies sponsoring employers about the Departments expectations about notifications and other communications to employees about Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plans) as well as shares details about the Departments plans for implementing their interpretation in planned final regulations by March, 2015.

Standards On Employer Communications About Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plans

The Notice cautions employers about the need to use care in communicating with employees about Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan.  Among other things, the Notice states that an employer that offers a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan (including a Pre-November 4, 2014 Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan) to an employee must:

  • Not state or imply in any disclosure that the offer of coverage under the Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan precludes an employee from obtaining a premium tax credit, if otherwise eligible, and
  • Timely correct any prior disclosures that stated or implied that the offer of the Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan would preclude an otherwise tax-credit-eligible employee from obtaining a premium tax credit.
  • Without such a corrective disclosure, the Notice warns that a statement (for example, in a summary of benefits and coverage) that a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan provides minimum value will be considered to imply that the offer of such a plan precludes employees from obtaining a premium tax credit. However, an employer that also offers an employee another plan that is not a Non-Hospital/Non/-Physician Services Plan and that is affordable and provides minimum value (MV) is permitted to advise the employee that the offer of this other plan will or may preclude the employee from obtaining a premium tax credit.

Anticipated Approach In Planned Regulations

Regarding the Departments plans to adopt regulations implementing the interpretation of Code § 36B announced in the Notice, the Notice indicates:

  • HHS intends to promptly propose amending 45 CFR 156.145 to provide that a health plan will not provide minimum value if it excludes substantial coverage for in-patient hospitalization services or physician services (or both).
  • Treasury and the IRS intend to issue proposed regulations that apply these proposed HHS regulations under Code section 36B. Accordingly, under the HHS and Treasury regulations, an employer will not be permitted to use the MV Calculator (or any actuarial certification or valuation) to demonstrate that a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan provides minimum value.
  • Treasury and IRS anticipate that the proposed changes to regulations will be finalized in 2015 and will apply to plans other than Pre-November 4, 2014 Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plans on the date they become final rather than being delayed to the end of 2015 or the end of the 2015 plan year. As a result, a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan (other than a Pre-November 4, 2014 Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan) should not be adopted for the 2015 plan year.
  • Solely in the case of an employer that has entered into a binding written commitment to adopt, or has begun enrolling employees in, a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan prior to November 4, 2014 based on the employer’s reliance on the results of use of the MV Calculator (a Pre-November 4, 2014 Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan), however, Notice 2014-69 states the Departments anticipate that final regulations, when issued, will not be applicable for purposes of Code section 4980H with respect to the plan before the end of the plan year (as in effect under the terms of the plan on November 3, 2014) if that plan year begins no later than March 1, 2015.
  • Employers offering Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plans should “exercise caution in relying on the Minimum Value Calculator to demonstrate that these plans provide minimum value for any portion of a taxable year after publication of the planned final regulations.
  • The IRS will not require an employee to treat a Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan as providing minimum value for purposes of an employee’s eligibility for a premium tax credit under Code section 36B, regardless of whether the plan is a Pre-November 4, 2014 Non-Hospital/Non-Physician Services Plan before final regulations take effect.

Employers & Plans Most Likely To Be Affected

The interpretation of minimum value and planned future regulatory changes announced in Notice 2014-69 primarily will impact large employers subject to the “pay or play” shared responsibility rules of Code § 4980H that offer a health plan providing coverage that meets the “minimum essential coverage” standards of Code § 4980H.

Under Code § 4980H(a),  large employers that fail to offer employee and dependent coverage under a health plan providing “minimum essential coverage” to each full-time employee generally become liable to pay an employer shared responsibility payment of  $165 per month ($2000 per year) (commonly referred to as the “A Penalty”)  for each full-time employee.

In contrast, the penalties (commonly referred to as the “B Penalty”) created under Code § 4980H(b) generally comes into play when a covered large employer offers health plan coverage under a health plan providing minimum essential coverage but the plan either:

  • Does not provide minimum value; or
  • The cost to the employee for coverage exceeds 9.5% of the employee’s family adjusted gross income or an otherwise applicable safe harbor amount allowed under IRS regulations.Register For Briefing To Learn More
  • To learn more about Notice 2014-69 and its implications on employer health plan obligations and Code § 4980H shared responsibility exposures, register to participate in a special Solutions Law WebEx Briefing on the new guidance conducted by Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer on Thursday, November 13, 2014 from Noon to 1:00 p.m. Central Time here.
  • Assuming at least one full-time employee of a covered large employer receives a subsidy for enrolling in health coverage through a health care exchange or “Marketplace” established under ACA, the B Penalty generally is equal to $250 per month ($3000 per year) multiplied by the number of such subsidized employees of the employer.

Learn More By Joining November 13, 2014 Solutions Law Press, Inc. Virtual Briefing Register Now!

To learn more about Notice 2014-69 and its implications on employer health plan obligations and Code § 4980H shared responsibility exposures, register to participate in a special Solutions Law WebEx Briefing on the new guidance conducted by Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer on Thursday, November 13, 2014 from Noon to 1:00 p.m. Central Time here.

During the briefing, Ms. Stamer will:

  • Explain what health benefits, if any, employers must offer employees under current ACA guidance
  • Brief participants on this new guidance and other related guidance
  • Discuss potential implications for employers and their health plans
  • Discuss potential options for employers dealing with these plans and
  • Take questions from virtual audience participants as time permits.

Registration Fee is $35.00 per person   Registration required for each virtual participant. Payment required via website registration in advance of the program.. Payment only accepted via website PayPal. No checks or cash accepted. Participation is limited and available on a first come, first serve basis. Persons not registered at least 24 hours in advance not guaranteed to receive access information or materials prior to commencement of the briefing.

This briefing will be conducted via WebEx over the internet. Participants may have the opportunity to participate via telephone, provided that participants electing to participate may incur added charges for telephone connectivity. Solutions Law Press, Inc. is not responsible for any power or system failures. Solutions Law Press, Inc. also expects to offer the opportunity for individuals unable to participate in the live briefing to listen to a recording of the briefing beginning approximately one week after the program via the Internet by registering, paying the required registration fee and following listening instructions received in response to such registration.

Interested persons can register here now!

About The Speaker

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and health benefit consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has  25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com), Insurance Thought Leadership,com and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.  With extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, as well as state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance and labor departments, and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training and serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.  See http://www.CynthiaStamer.com  for more details.

 

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and health benefit consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 plus years’ experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com), Insurance Thought Leadership,com and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications. With extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, as well as state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance and labor departments, and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training and serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs. See http://www.CynthiaStamer.com. for more details.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and assist businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.

For Added Information and Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For additional information about upcoming programs, to inquire about becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship,  to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  If you would prefer not to receive communications from Solutions Law Press, Inc. send an e-mail with “Solutions Law Press Unsubscribe” in the Subject to support@solutionslawyer.net.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 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. If you are an individual with a disability who requires accommodation to participate, please let us know when you register so that we may consider your request.   ©2014 Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All rights reserved.

 


HHS Share Model HIPAA Notices 1 Week Before Deadline For Updating Business Associate Agreements

September 16, 2013

A week before the September 23, 2013 deadline for all health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to have updated their business associate agreements to comply with the Final Omnibus HIPAA Rule, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today (September 16, 2013) released Model Notices of Privacy Practices (Notices) for health care providers and health plans to use to communicate with their patients and plan members. With penalties and enforcement continuing to rise, Covered Entities and their business associates should take appropriate steps to review and update their privacy and breach notification policies and procedures, privacy officer appointments, notices of privacy practices, business associate agreements and other HIPAA compliance and risk management documentation, practices, procedures and coverage, breach notification and other HIPAA compliance and risk management practice.

Model HIPAA Notices

Developed collaboratively by ONC and OCR the Notices available here designed in the following three different styles are designed for users to customize to fit their specific needs and practices:

  • A notice in the form of a booklet;
  • A layered notice with a summary of the information on the first page and full content on the following pages; and
  • A notice with the design elements of the booklet, but that is formatted for full-page presentation.

Use of these model Notices is optional.  While the agencies designed the Notices to let Covered Entities to use these models by entering some of their own information into the model, such as contact information, and then printing for distribution and posting on their websites, Covered Entities should consult with legal counsel to determine the suitability of the Notices generally for their entity’s use and any customization, if any, that may be recommended or required to a Notice if the Covered Entity decides rely upon a model Notice to prepare its Notice of Privacy Practices.  To facilitate any tailoring, the agencies provided a text-only version for Covered Entities wishing only wish to use the content with or without tailoring.

September 23 Business Associate Agreement Update Deadline

September 23, 2013 also is the final deadline established in the Final Omnibus HIPAA Rule for Covered Entities and their business associations to update the business associate agreements required by HIPAA to reflect application of the breach notification, business associate, and many of HIPAA’s requirements to directly cover business associates and other aspects of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  While HHS published a Sample Business Associate Agreement last June to aid Covered Entities and their business associates with understanding the business associate agreement requirements as impacted by the Omnibus Final HIPAA Rule, it also made clear that Covered Entities and their business associates should tailor their business associate agreements to fit their specific circumstances and relationships.  OCR National Office and regional officials speaking about their findings about past business associate agreement compliance have indicated that their audit and enforcement activities show widespread compliance issues among Covered Entities and business associates with the original business associate agreements.  OCR clearly expects Covered Entities and their business associates to address and resolve these compliance issues going forward.

Covered Entities and their business associates are increasingly at peril if caught violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security or Breach Notification rules.  With the HITECH Act Breach Notification rules now requiring Covered Entities to self-disclose breaches, OCR becomes aware of breaches much more easily.  Coupled with the HITECH Act’s increase in sanctions for HIPAA violations, Covered Entities and, beginning September 23, 2013, their business associates face rising risks for violating HIPAA.  See, e.g. HHS Settles with Health Plan in Photocopier Breach Case; WellPoint Settles HIPAA Security Case for $1,700,000; Shasta Regional Medical Center Settles HIPAA Security Case for $275,000; Idaho State University Settles HIPAA Security Case for $400,000; and HHS announces first HIPAA breach settlement involving less than 500 patients.

In response to the updated Final Regulations and these expanding HIPAA enforcement and exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help or More Information

If you need assistance responding to HIPAA or other health industry regulatory, enforcement or other developments, reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement actions; with 2014 health plan decision-making, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer for help.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer is widely recognized for her extensive work, publications, and thought leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.  Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR for the past three years, Ms. Stamer’s experience includes extensive work advising, representing and training health plan, health insurance, health IT, health care and other clients on HIPAA and other privacy, data protection and breach and other related matters and represents and advises these and other clients in responding to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights and other HHS agencies, Labor Department, IRS regulations, investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  She also is recognized for her extensive publications and programs including numerous highly regarding publications and programs on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications.

Beyond her HIPAA involvement, Ms. Stamer also continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


IRS Publishes Final Health Reform Individual Shared Responsibility Rules

September 1, 2013

Starting in 2014, the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) dictates that each individual American either have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.  In anticipation of the implementation of this Individual Shared Responsibility mandate, the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published final regulations implementing the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate in the Internal Revenue Code. The guidance contained in these final regulations provide each American with critical information about their families’ potential exposure to liability for the individual shared responsibility tax in 2014 as well as key insights for employers.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.  authors are finalizing various articles on certain key aspects of these new regulations for publication over the next few days. Stay tuned for more details!

For each month beginning after December 31, 2013, Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A’s Individual Shared Responsibility mandate requires that individual Americans either qualify as exempt, maintain minimum essential coverage for themselves and any nonexempt family members, or pay an individual shared responsibility payment when paying their Federal income tax return.  A taxpayer will be obligated to pay the individual shared responsibility tax under Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A for any non-exempt individual the taxpayer claims on his or her individual tax return as a dependent who is not exempt or enrolled in minimum essential coverage.

Under § 5000A(f)(2), minimum essential coverage includes coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan.

The final regulations set the rules that the IRS will use to decide when an individual American will become liable for paying the tax imposed by ACA for failing to maintain the minimum required health insurance coverage mandated by ACA beginning January 1, 2013 and other related rules.  While specifically addressing the obligations of individual Americans to pay the Individual Shared Responsibility payment, the final rules coupled with the availability of the new option for individual Americans to buy coverage through an ACA-qualified federal health care exchange and, depending on the adjusted household income of the individual, potentially also to receive tax credits for enrolling in coverage through an exchange is likely to impact the enrollment choices that employed individuals make about enrolling in coverage offered by their employer versus in coverage through a federally qualified health insurance exchange.  Accordingly, both individual Americans and the businesses that employ them should act quickly to understand the key aspects of the final regulations and their implications.

When considering the effect of these final regulations, employers and individual Americans should keep in mind that Notice 2013-42, issued on June 26, 2013, provides limited transition relief from the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate for employees and their families who are eligible to enroll in certain employer-sponsored health plans with a plan year other than a calendar year if the plan year begins in 2013 and ends in 2014. For additional information on the Individual Shared Responsibility provision, the final regulations and Notice 2013-42, see the IRS questions and answers.

Coming slightly less than a month before the October 1, 2013 scheduled opening of the first enrollment period for individual Americans to enroll in health care coverage through a federally qualified health insurance exchange created pursuant to ACA and the deadline for employers to deliver the notice of the availability of this option dictated by Fair Labor Standards Act 18B,  the final regulations and Obama Administration’s announced plans to enforce its provisions has drawn criticism from a number of groups.  While the Obama Administration has indicated that it still plans to enforce the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate against individual Americans, it announced in July, 2013 that it would delay enforcement of the Employer Shared Responsibility Mandate rules of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H until 2015.  Many consumer rights groups and others are arguing that the Administration should also delay its enforcement of the Individual Shared Responsibility Mandate in light of its delay of enforcement of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H against businesses.   Pending a reversal of its position or Congressional relief, the final regulation signal to individual Americans and their employers to prepare to deal with the new Individual Shared Responsibility Mandate beginning in January, 2014.

While the delay in enforcement of the Section 4980H employer shared responsibility payment until 2015 means that employers will not incur liability for failing to provide coverage meeting the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H, the impending implementation of the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate of Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A and the impending availability of tax credits for certain individuals with Household Adjusted Gross Incomes of less than 400 percent of the poverty level almost certainly will influence enrollment decisions that employees make concerning coverage offered by their employer, if any.  Employers  can expect that employee choices about enrolling in employer-sponsored group health coverage will be influenced by the impending obligation to enroll in coverage or pay the individual shared responsibility tax in 2014 governed by the final regulations.  Employers can expect that employee concern about these exposures will prompt many employees to carefully scrutinize and in some cases question the information and implications of information provided by the employer or its plan such as the Section 18B notice that employers must provide by October 1, 2013, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) that the Affordable Care Act obligations the employer or plan to provide as the employees work to sort out their choices.  As these and other plan communications are likely to face significant scrutiny, employers and their employee benefit plan fiduciaries and administrators should use extra care to ensure that these and other plan documents and communications are carefully and precisely tailored to accurately convey all material plan terms.

For Help or More Information

If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


Impending 10/1 Exchange Notice & Other New Notice Deadlines Cut Time Short For Employers To Finalize 2014 Health Plan Terms & Contracts

August 21, 2013

Employer and union group health plan sponsors and insurers of group and individual health plans (Health Plans) agonizing over 2014 plan design decisions are running out of time. Impending deadlines to update and deliver the initial Exchange Notice by October 1, 2013, the Summary of Benefits and Communications (SBC) disclosure before their next enrollment period begins, and 60-day prior notice of material reductions in benefits or services under the plan mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require employers or other sponsors to finalize design decisions and amendments well in advance of January 1, 2014.  These new notification obligations create added urgency and pressure for Health Plans and their employer and other sponsors to finalize and implement their decisions on their Health Plans 2014 plan designs and coverages and make the necessary determinations to prepare and timely deliver the required notifications in accordance with these new notification mandates well before the start of the 2014 plan year or its enrollment period. Employers who in the past have put off these decisions until the last month of the plan year no longer can legally do so.

ACA Exchange Notices Due By October 1

One of the biggest time constraints for finalizing 2014 plan designs, contracts and terms is the impending October 1, 2014 deadline for employers to provide the notice required by Fair Labor Standards Act Section 18B.

Regardless of if the employer sponsors a health plan or when the next plan enrollment period begins, all employers covered by the FLSA generally are required deliver a notice to employees about the new option beginning January 1, 2014 to get health care coverage through a health care exchange (now rebranded by the Obama Administration as a “Marketplace”)(Marketplace) created by ACA that meets the requirements of new FLSA Section 18B enacted Section 1512 of ACA.

Absent a delay or other reprieve from the Obama Administration or Congress,  Open enrollment for health insurance coverage through the Marketplace begins October 1, 2013.  Individuals and employees of small businesses beginning October 1, 2013 can apply for and, beginning January 1, 2014 to buy health care coverage offered through the Marketplace established under ACA for their state (including the Federal Marketplace for states that did not elect to establish their own Marketplace). Some individuals who earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level and meet certain other conditions also are slated to qualify to receive federal subsidies that will pay all or part of the cost of buying coverage through a Marketplace.

To promote awareness among employees of the Marketplace as an option for getting health coverage, creates a new FLSA Section 18B requiring a notice (Exchange Notice) to employees of coverage options available through the Marketplace.  Originally required by March 1, 2013,[*] the Department of Labor (DOL) extended the deadline for providing the Exchange Notice to October 1, 2013.  Employers must provide a notice of coverage options to each employee, regardless of plan enrollment status (if applicable) or of part-time or full-time status. Employers are not required to provide a separate notice to dependents or other individuals who are or may become eligible for coverage under the plan but who are not employees.

All FLSA-Covered Employers Must Provide Exchange Notices Beginning October 1, 2013

Under FLSA Section 18B of the FLSA, each applicable employer must provide each employee at the time of hiring (or with respect to current employees, by October 1, 2013), a written notice that fulfills the applicable Exchange Notice requirements as set forth in the DOL Regulations.

The FLSA section 18B requirement to provide a notice to employees of coverage options applies to all   employers subject to the FLSA. In general, the FLSA applies to employers that employ one or more employees who are engaged in, or produce goods for, interstate commerce. For most firms, a test of not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business applies. The FLSA also specifically covers the following entities: hospitals; institutions primarily engaged in the care of the sick, the aged, mentally ill, or disabled who reside on the premises; schools for children who are mentally or physically disabled or gifted; preschools, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education; and federal, state and local government agencies.  Employers questioning whether their business is subject to the FLSA should seek the assistance of legal counsel experienced with the FLSA.

Timing and Delivery of Notice

Employers are required to provide the Exchange Notice to each new employee at the time of hiring beginning October 1, 2013. For 2014, the Department will consider a notice to be provided at the time of hiring if the notice is provided within 14 days of an employee’s start date.

For employees who are current employees before October 1, 2013, employers must provide the Exchange Notice no later than October 1, 2013.

The Exchange Notice must be provided in writing in a manner calculated to be understood by the average employee. Employers may deliver the Exchange Notice by first-class mail or, if the electronic notification requirements of the Department of Labor’s electronic disclosure safe harbor at 29 CFR 2520.104b-1(c) are met, electronically.

Required Content of Exchange Notice

The Exchange Notice content mandated by FLSA Section 18B is fairly limited.  Section 18B requires that the Exchange Notice only dictates three required elements:

  • Inform employees of coverage options, including information about the existence of the new Marketplace as well as contact information and description of the services provided by a Marketplace;
  • Inform the employee that the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit under Section 36B of the Code if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace; and
  • Include a statement informing the employee that if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.  At minimum, this generally requires that the Exchange Notice distributed by an employer must inform the employee.

Interim DOL guidance implementing these requirements construes the content requirements as requiring that the Exchange Notice tell the employee:

  • Of the existence of the Marketplace (referred to in the statute as the Exchange) including a description of the services provided by the Marketplace, and the way the employee may contact the Marketplace to request assistance;
  • That the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy under Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace and the employer does not offer coverage to the employee under a group health plan that is considered to provide “Minimum Value” for purposes of ACA; and
  • That if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.

Allow Adequate Time To Do Analysis, Complete Other Steps To Prepare Exchange Notices

Employers should resist the urge to allow the shortness of the list of information required that FLSA Section 18B requires in the Exchange Notice lure them into underestimating the time and effort required to prepare the Exchange Notification.  For many employers, determining if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value can be time-consuming and complex.

For this, the SBC notice discussed later in this update and other purposes, Code Section 36B(c)(2)(C)(ii) provides that an employer-sponsored Health Plan provides Minimum Value if the ratio of the share of total costs paid by the Health Plan relative to the total costs of covered services is no less than 60% of the anticipated covered medical spending for covered benefits paid by a group health plan for a standard population, computed in accordance with the plan’s cost-sharing, and divided by the total anticipated allowed charges for covered benefits provided to a standard population is no less than 60%.  See Patient Protection and ACA: Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation Regulation.

Existing regulations require the employers to get an actuarial certification to determine if its Health Plan provides Minimum Value unless the employer can show that the Health Plan fits the criteria to use and satisfies this test using either the Minimum Value Calculator or an applicable safe harbor design approved by HHS, Treasury and DOL.  These determinations often are time consuming and complex requiring careful review and analysis of the group health plan coverage and benefits.  Many self-insured or other group health plans have plan designs that prevent the employer from relying on the Minimum Value Calculator or design safe harbors.  If the employer cannot rely upon the Minimum Value Calculator or one of the design safe harbors, an actuarial certification will be needed.  Employers need to allow sufficient time to make these determinations in time to complete and deliver the Exchange Notices.

Employers should particularly expect to need to obtain an actuarial certification to determine if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value determination if the Health Plan is taking advantage of temporary relief from the cost sharing limitations of ACA for 2014 announced by the Obama Administration in February and reconfirmed in July, that for 2014 allows Health Plans to apply a separate ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum to prescription drug benefits from the ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum applied to all other benefits subject to ACA’s cost sharing restrictions.   Since the Minimum Value Calculator cannot take into account this option, however, employers planning to apply a separate out-of-pocket maximum for prescription drug coverage versus other plan benefits should be prepared to get an actuarial certification of whether the plan provides Minimum Value.

DOL Model Exchange Notices Not Panacea

Employers may want to use some or all of the language that the DOL included in Model Notices that DOL published in conjunction with its publication of interim guidance on FLSA Section 18B in Technical Release No. 2013-02 on May 8, 2013 here. Because employers must tailor the content of the Exchange Notice for their group health plan based on specific information about their group health plan, employers are cautioned not to underestimate the time or effort that will be required to properly prepare the Exchange Notice for their group health plan, whether or not the employer makes use of the Model Notices in whole or part.

DOL published three model exchange notices (Model Notices) to assist employers in preparing the Exchange Notice for their Health Plan for 2014. One Model Notice is intended for employers who do not offer a Health Plan.  The second Model Notice is designed for employers who offer a health plan to some or all employees. The third Model Notice is designed for employers to use to notify individuals who are enrolled or eligible to enroll in continuation coverage  under the Health Plan under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).   Technical Release No. 2013-02 says employers may use the applicable of these models or a modified version, provided the Exchange Notice meets the content requirements described above.

Despite the availability of these Model Notices, preparing and providing the required Exchange Notices required by Section 18B typically requires significant evaluation and presents a variety of challenges for most employers.  While intended to facilitate the ability of employers to prepare and provide the required Exchange Notices, preparing the Model Notices generally is challenging for many employers.

First, even using the Model Notices, the employer must decide if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value.

Another challenge with wholesale use of the Model Notices involves deciding how much of the optional language contained in the Model Notices to include in the Exchange Notice and what optional information, if any, to provide as part of that Notice.

For one thing, the Model Notices propose that the Exchange Notice include statements that many critics view as inappropriately promoting enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace rather than employer sponsored group health plans.  Critics complain, for instance that the Model Notice’s statement that the Marketplaces offer “one-stop shopping” that allows the employee to get coverage that the Model Notice states is more “affordable” are inaccurate or misleading. Many critics view the assertion that coverage obtained through the exchange is more “affordable” to be inaccurate as it does not take into account a comparison of the actual benefits and costs of the respective plan options and whether the employee can afford the typically richer (and therefore often more expensive) benefit packages ACA’s essential health benefits mandates require be included in coverage offered for sale through the Marketplaces and presumes that these higher costs will be defrayed by tax credits or subsidies that are only available if the employee earns less than 400% of the federal poverty level and is not offered the option to enroll in an employer sponsored group health plan coverage that provides “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) and Minimum Value and is “affordable” within the meaning of ACA.

Employers considering using the Model Notices also need to decide if their Exchange Notices will include the optional factual disclosures about their group health plan suggested in the Model Notices, but not required to fulfill the requirements of FLSA Section 18B.

The Model Notices propose that an employer also voluntarily provide a significant amount of other information about its group health plan that FLSA Section permits, but does not require that the Exchange Notice include.  The DOL says it designed the Model Notices to help employers to identify and disclose information that the DOL expects employees interested in the tax credit to subsidize the employee’s cost of enrolling in coverage through the Marketplace will need to get from employers to show eligibility.  DOL assumes that many employers might want to voluntarily provide this information in the Exchange Notice to avoid receiving a multitude of anticipated inquiries from employees interested seeking tax credits to subsidize their enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace.  Since collection the data necessary to make these optional disclosures can add significant complexity and time to the preparation of the Exchange Notice, employers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of making the optional disclosures.  The anticipated demand for this information has declined since the Obama Administration announced it plans to use an “honor system” approach to determine if individuals can claim eligibility for tax credit subsidies for buying coverage through the Marketplaces in 2014.  Meanwhile, the interim nature of the existing guidance on the Exchange Notice and other key aspects of ACA make it reasonable to expect further changes in the expected content of the Exchange Notice, ACA requirements that it is intended to communicate or both which could impact the need for or accuracy of these disclosures.  For this reason, employers should carefully consider whether and what optional disclosures to include in their Exchange Notices.

Don’t Forget To Notify COBRA Qualified Beneficiaries

Technical Release No. 2013-02 indicates that in addition to sending an Exchange Notice to employees, employers or their group health plan administrators also must notify COBRA eligible or enrolled individuals.

In general, under COBRA, an individual who was covered by a group health plan on the day before a qualifying event occurred may be able to elect COBRA continuation coverage upon a qualifying event (such as termination of employment or reduction in hours that causes loss of coverage under the plan). Individuals with such a right are called qualified beneficiaries. A group health plan must provide qualified beneficiaries with an election notice, which describes their rights to continuation coverage and how to make an election. The election notice must be provided to the qualified beneficiaries within 14 days after the plan administrator receives the notice of a qualifying event.

Technical Release No. 2013-02 says that the DOL considers the required disclosures for the Exchange Notice information to be disclosed to qualified beneficiaries and that the DOL is revising previously published model COBRA notices to incorporate this information.

DOL says in Technical Release No. 2013-02 that the group health plans can use the revised model COBRA election notice to satisfy the requirement to provide the election notice under COBRA including the disclosure of information required by FLSA Section 18B. The DOL cautions that as with the earlier model COBRA notices, in order to use this model election notice properly, the plan administrator must complete it by filling in the blanks with the appropriate plan information. Technical Release 2013-02 states that use of the model election notice, appropriately completed, will be considered by the Department of Labor to be good faith compliance with the election notice content requirements of COBRA.

ACA SBC Mandate Overview

In addition to the Exchange Notice requirement, the need to prepare and timely delivery the “Summary of Benefits and Coverage or “SBC”) required by ACA also pressures employers to finalize their health plan terms and contracts for 2014 as soon as possible.

ACA amended the Public Health Services Act (PHS) Section 2715, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Section 715 and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 9815 to require that Health Plans and health insurance issuers provide a SBC and a “Uniform Glossary” that “accurately describes the benefits and coverage under the applicable plan or coverage” in a way that meets the format, content and other detailed SBC standards set for ACA as implemented by the Departments regulatory guidance. Like the Exchange Notice, proper preparation of the SBC requires determination of whether the Health Plan provides Minimum Value, as well as other detailed analysis of the plan terms and coverages to complete the other disclosures required in the SBC.

The Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary Final Regulation  (Final Regulation) implementing this requirement published February 14, 2012 generally requires Health Plans at specified times including before the first offer of coverage under the Plan as well as following certain material changes to the Plan. For Health Plans providing group health plan coverage, FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VII)[*] set the deadline for Health Plan to deliver a SBC as follows, while at the same time indicating that the Departments would not impose penalties on plans and issuers “working diligently and in good faith” to provide the required SBC content in an appearance consistent with the Final Regulations:

  • To covered persons enrolling or re-enrolling in an open enrollment period (including late enrollees and re-enrollees) as the first day of the first open enrollment period that begins on or after September 23, 2012; and
  • For individuals enrolling in coverage other than through an open enrollment period (including individuals who are newly eligible for coverage and special enrollees) as the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after September 23, 2012. See FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VIII).

While the SBC doesn’t prohibit an employer from amending its Health Plan terms after the enrollment period begins, employers that change Health Plan terms or designs after distributing a SBC must incur the expense and effort to prepare and redistribute an updated SBC.  Accordingly, most Health Plans and their sponsors or insurers will want to finalize Health Plan terms before the enrollment period begins to avoid the need to and expense of sending updated SBCs as a result of a later change in Health Plan terms.

The Final Regulation and other existing guidance generally dictates that Health Plans follow a required template for providing the SBC and accompanying glossary. When publishing the Final Regulation, the Departments also published the required SBC template form (2013 SBC Template) and instructions for Health Plans to use to prepare and provide the required SBC for coverage beginning before January 1, 2014 and promised updated guidance and templates for use in providing SBCs for post-2013 coverage. While the Agencies clarified certain other details about the SBC rules, they did not materially change the required content or form of the 2013 SBC Template until their April 23, 2013 release of FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV). See e.g. FAQs About ACA Implementation Part IX and Part X.

FAQ Part XIV Requires MEC and Minimum Value Disclosures In SBC

FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV) published April 23, 2013 announces the updated required 2014 SBC Template that the Agencies are requiring to SBCs for periods of health coverage from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014.  Along with the 2014 SBC Template, the Agencies also published 2014 Sample Completed SBC, which provides an example of a SBC completed for a hypothetical health plan prepared by the Agencies.

The 2014 SBC Template updates the 2013 SBC Template and Sample Completed Template to add information the Agencies believe individuals eligible for Health Plan coverage should know in light of the impending implementation of the individual shared responsibility requirements of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 5000A and the employer shared responsibility rules of Code Section 4980H commonly called ACA’s “pay-or-play” rules.   These were the “penalty” provisions that the Supreme Court ruled are taxes in 2013.

The April 23, 2013 FAQ expressly requires that SBCs for periods of coverage after December 31, 2013 disclose if the Health Plans provide MEC and Minimum Value to enable participants and beneficiaries to understand if enrollment in the Health Plan will suffice to allow the employee to avoid paying the individual penalty under Code Section 5000(a)’s individual “shared responsibility” rules, to compare the coverage and costs to enroll in the employer’s Health Plan versus to enroll in health care coverage through a Marketplace and to predict how their eligibility for enrollment in the employer’s Health Plan will impact their eligibility to qualify to claim tax credits under Code Section 32G to help subsidize the cost to purchase coverage through a Marketplace.

Code Section 5000A generally imposes a penalty tax on individuals that fail to maintain enrollment in MEC within the meaning of Code Section 5000A(f) and not otherwise exempt under Code Section 5000A(d).  As of the publication of this update, the Obama Administration has not announced any delay in the enforcement of this penalty against individuals, but legislation is pending in Congress that would delay its applicability, along with approving the delay of enforcement of the Code Section 4980H penalties previously announced by the Obama Administration.

Although the Obama Administration announced in early July, 2013 that it will not enforce collection of the Code Section 4980H provisions against employers until 2015, Code Section 4980H generally requires employers of 50 or more full-time employees to pay a penalty if the employer fails to offer a group health plan providing MEC and Minimum Value   Minimum Value is determined for this purpose in the same manner that it is determined for purposes of making the required disclosure in the Exchange Notice.

60-Day Advance Notice of Material Changes Requirement

In addition to providing the required Exchange Notice and SBCs, employers, group health plans and their plan administrators also must ensure that participants and beneficiaries are given at least 60 days prior notice before the effective date of any “material reduction in covered services or benefits.” See 29

CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(3); also see 29 CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(2) regarding a 90-day alternative rule.

Section 102 of ERISA has been amended to require 60-day advance notice of material plan changes for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2012 before the change can be effective.  The 60-day advance notification requirement is a modification to the summary plan description/summary of material modification requirements generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA.

The rule’s definition of “material modification” is the same as the definition in the summary of material modifications rule generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA Section 102.

DOL guidance indicates that group health plans can meet the 60-day advance notice requirement by providing an updated Summary of Benefits and Coverage if the change is reflected on the summary or by sending a separate written notice describing the material modification.

Group health plan issuers or sponsors that willfully (intentionally) fail to provide the notice of material modification can face a fine of up to $1,000 for each failure. Each covered individual equates to a separate offense for purposes of these penalties.

Employer and other group health sponsors, issuers, fiduciaries and administrators also should keep in mind that courts historically refuse to enforce reductions in benefits or services provided under the plan until participants and beneficiaries are notified of the change.  For purposes of the ERISA notification rules, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers, administrators and fiduciaries are cautioned to take into account whether health care providers or other parties who have assignments of benefits should be provided with notification under these or other ERISA rules in addition to the employees and dependents who are enrolled in coverage under the group health plan.

Notice Deadlines Mean Time Short To Adopt & Communicate 2014 Plan Terms

Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, administrators and others involved in 2014 group health plan decisions and preparations must take into account these notification deadlines and allow adequate lead time to properly finalize, adopt and communicate their 2014 health plan terms.

Since group health plan design decisions must be finalized to properly prepare the Minimum Value disclosures required in the Exchange Notice and the SBC and any material reductions required by the 60-day advance notice requirement, time running short to finalize 2014 plan designs.

Employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers are cautioned that their preparations should ensure both the necessary disclosures are made and that all disclosures are carefully prepared so that the notifications and the plan terms are consistent.

These preparations should include the critical review and coordination of the language of health plan documents and summary plan descriptions in light of these other notifications to identify and address potential differences between the government-mandated terms and language in the Glossary and SBC, the Exchange Notice and 60-day notice and the plan terms and summary plan description.

Arrangements also must include proper structuring and formatting of all of these documents and timely distribution in accordance with applicable regulations to participants and beneficiaries entitled to receive these documents in a manner that positions the employer, the group health plan and its fiduciaries and insurers to show compliance. In regard to distributions, parties planning to distribute notifications electronically need to ensure that any electronic or other methods of distribution meet applicable requirements and that the Health Plans timely send copies to all entitled parties – employees and dependents – in accordance with the applicable rules.

When planning these activities, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers and administrators also generally will want to minimize distribution costs by coordinating distribution of these ACA mandated notices with other notifications required for group health plans about privacy, coverage for newborns and mothers, mental health coverage, post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery and the like.

For Help or More Information

If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


Health Plan Pays $1.2M+ HIPAA Settlement For Not Protecting PHI On Copiers

August 15, 2013

Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (Affinity) will pay $1,215,780 and take other corrective actions to settle alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules under the Affinity Resolution Agreement and CAP (Affinity Settlement) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The settlement comes as the September 24, 2013 deadline for health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to update the written business associate agreements that HIPAA requires exist before business associates can be allowed to create, use, access or disclose personally identifiable health care information protected by HIPAA (PHI) to carry out HIPAA-covered functions on behalf of a Covered Entity to comply with changes to HIPAA’s implementing regulations adopted by OCR earlier this year.  Health plans and other Covered Entities should take timely action to confirm that their existing procedures appropriate safeguards to protect PHI when using or disposing of copiers or other equipment or media as well as to implement business associate or other policy, procedures or training updates required to comply with the updated HIPAA rules.

HIPAA Updates Require Breach Notification, Tightened Other HIPAA Requirements

HIPAA generally requires that Covered Entities (and after September 24, 2013, their business associates) safeguard and restrict the use, access or disclosure of PHI as required by HIPAA.  The HITECH Act amended these requirements to tighten certain of these requirements and restrictions, to expand the sanctions for violation of these requirements, to require Covered Entities and their business associates to provide notification of breaches of unsecured PHI to individuals whose information was breached, OCR and in some cases, the media, and made certain other changes to the original requirements of HIPAA.  Earlier this year, OCR amended and restated its original Privacy and Security Rules here (2013 Final Rule) to comply with changes in the regulations resulting from these HITECH Act amendments beginning last March, but set the deadline for updating business associate agreements to meet these updated requirements at September 23, 2013.

The 2013 Final Rule and other OCR guidance makes clear that OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates appropriately to safeguard PHI stored in computers, hard drives, and other digital media until it is properly disposed in accordance with the updated standards required by HIPAA as implemented under the 2013 Final Rule. HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to tell HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information, including breaches resulting from failure to properly secure PHI stored in digital format until it has been destroyed in accordance with the standards established by the 2013 Final Rule.   OCR previously has sanctioned other Covered Entities for failed to properly destroy or safeguard PHI stored in digital format on computer or other equipment before abandoning or disposing of that equipment.  The Affinity Settlement reaffirms OCR’s concern that Covered Entities meet these disposal requirements when replacing or abandoning equipment containing electronic PHI.

Affinity Settlement Highlights

According to the August 14, 2013 OCR announcement of the settlement, the settlement resulted from an investigation initiated after Affinity filed a breach report with OCR on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act.)

In its breach report, Affinity indicated that a representative of CBS Evening News told Affinity that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity.  CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.

Affinity estimated in its breach report that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by this breach. OCR’s investigation indicated that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.  In addition, OCR reports its investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information (ePHI) stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents.

In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the Affinity Settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all ePHI.

Learn From Affinity Lesson On Proper Disposal Procedures

Like prior OCR settlements stemming from inadequate security for PHI when transitioning equipment, media or facilities, the Affinity Settlement sends another reminder to Covered Entities and their business associates again of the importance of using appropriate procedures to protect or dispose of PHI when replacing or redeploying equipment or media that may contain PHI.

“This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”

OCR has published guidance concerning HIPAA’s requirements for the proper safeguarding and disposal of media and equipment in the 2013 Final Rule and other guidance.  Concerning the proper disposition of copiers that may have PHI stored on their hard drives or in other digital formal, OCR in the Affinity Settlement recommended that Covered Entities and their associates also review the Federal Trade Commission’s Guidance On Safeguarding Sensitive Data Stored In The Hard Drives Of Digital Copiers and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued Guidance On Assessing The Security Of Multipurpose Office Machines.  Covered Entities and their business associates should use this and other guidance to ensure that they can demonstrate that appropriate practices and procedures have been used to when disposing of or repurposing copies or other equipment that may contain electronic PHI.

HIPAA Regulation Updates Require Other Updates Beyond Disposal Procedures

In addition to addressing the concerns that lead to the Affinity Settlement, Covered Entities and their business associates also should verify that their practices, policies, privacy notices, business associate agreements, and training also are updated to comply with updates to the updated 2013 Final Rule adopted by OCR earlier this year here.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, OCR officials have warned Covered Entities to expect an omnibus restatement of its original regulations.  While OCR had issued certain regulations implementing some of the HITECH Act changes, it waited to publish certain regulations necessary to implement other HITECH Act changes until it could complete a more comprehensive restatement of its previously published HIPAA regulations to reflect both the HITECH Act amendments and other refinements to  its HIPAA Rules. The 2013 Regulations published today fulfill  that promise by restating OCR’s HIPAA Regulations to reflect the HITECH Act Amendments and other changes and clarifications to OCR’s interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA.

In response to the updated Final Regulations and these expanding HIPAA enforcement and exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.  Author of numerous prominent publications on HIPAA and other data security and privacy concerns impacting health plans, health care providers, employers, financial services providers and others, Ms. Stamer also serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR and has represented numerous health plans, employers, health care providers and others in investigating, redressing, reporting data breach, identity theft and other compliance concerns.

She advises clients on, publishes, and speaks on HIPAA and other health plan, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


Justice Department Sues Texas Bus Company For Illegal Discrimination Against Citizens When Hiring H-2B Program Workers

August 6, 2013

A federal lawsuit against Houston-based bus company Autobuses Ejecutivos LLC, d/b/a Omnibus Express, reminds U.S employers hiring foreign workers under the H-2B or other special worker visa programs to use care to ensure that they can prove that their need for foreign workers is not the result of recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against work-eligible members of the U.S. workforce already in the United States.

The Justice Department announced on August 6, 2013 that it and the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) are suing Omnibus Express for allegedly violating the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provisions by preferring to hire for bus driver positions temporary nonimmigrant visa holders on H-2B visas over work-eligible U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents and other protected individuals.

H-2B Program Hiring Prohibited If Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The H-2B program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs only when there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing or qualified to do the temporary work.  While H-2B program hiring can be invaluable when a legitimate need exists, businesses contemplating or using the program need to be prepared to show their need to hire workers on H-2B visas is not the result of discriminatory hiring practices prohibited by the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.

The INA generally protects work-eligible individuals in the United States, such as U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, from unlawful discrimination in hiring based on their citizenship status prohibiting employers from discriminating in hiring against these protected work-eligible workers based on their citizenship status.

Accordingly, while the H-2B program provides a valid opportunity to hire foreign workers consistent with the H-2B visa program requirements when in fact there are insufficient work-eligible, qualified applicants already in the U.S. to fill the position, employers hiring workers under the H-2B or other visa programs need to ensure that they are not inappropriately discriminating against U.S. citizens, permanent residents or other work-eligible individuals already in the U.S. in their recruitment and hiring practices when taking advantage of the H-2B program to hire workers.

In addition to the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA, hiring practices that discriminate in favor of hiring workers over other qualified applicants based on the respective citizenship, national origin, race or other protected status of the respective applicants or workers also can expose a business to liability under various other laws. In addition to suits brought by the Justice Department, prohibited discrimination by an employer under these other employment discrimination laws may expose a business to liability to actions brought by private litigants, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) or other agencies, or both.

Omnibus Express Suit Highlights Risks Of H-2B Visa Hiring Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The Justice Department complaint charges that Omnibus Express failed to fulfill this obligation.  It claims that Omnibus Express violated the INA by actively discouraging or failing to consider the applications of many qualified U.S. citizens and other protected individuals between September 2012 to February 2013 while at the same time petitioning the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to hire up to 50 foreign workers on H-2B visas.    The Justice Department alleges that Omnibus Express violated the INA by hiring 42 H-2B workers during this period based on its representation to the DOL and USCIS that there were not enough qualified workers in the United States to fill the 50 bus driver positions when in fact, its practices illegally discriminated against work-eligible U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and other INA-protected individuals who could have filled the positions.

The Justice Department asks the court to redress these alleged violations of the INA by ordering Omnibus Express to pay back pay for injured parties and civil penalties prohibiting future discrimination by Omnibus Express, and ordering other injunctive relief.

INA Discrimination Prosecution Part Of Obama Administration’s Emphasis on Enforcing Discrimination Laws

Businesses also should keep in mind that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Omnibus Express for alleged illegal citizenship discrimination also is part of the Obama Administration’s larger agenda prioritizing the expansion of non-discrimination safeguards for protected classes and the enforcement of these non-discrimination laws.

Since Mr. Obama took office, the Administration has sought regulatory and statutory changes that expand the federal employment and other anti-discrimination for a broad range of groups. The Administration also continues to proactively seek to expand the individuals protected by these and other Federal anti-discrimination laws even as the Departments of Justice, Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Housing & Urban Development and other federal agencies have expanded their investigation, prosecution and public outreach of these laws.

In light of these developments, businesses should recognize that this proactive anti-discrimination agenda makes it wise for private businesses and state and local government agencies to take greater care to prevent and position their organizations to defend against potential discrimination and retaliation claims under the INA and a broad range of other employment and other anti-discrimination laws.

While this activist agenda in the anti-discrimination law area merits tighter compliance and risk management for all organizations, government contractors or subcontractors particularly face heightened risk as a result of recent expansions to the reach and requirements of nondiscrimination requirements.

Act To Mitigate Citizenship, National Origin & Other Employment Discrimination Exposures

Accordingly, while the Omnibus Express particularly highlights the importance for businesses subject to U.S. law to use care before hiring foreign workers on H-2B or other special visas to ensure that they can demonstration the need for foreign workers does not stem from recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against applicants already in and eligible to work in the U.S. who would be qualified to fill those positions.

Furthermore, businesses should use care not to underestimate their exposure to liability from charges of illegal discrimination in violation of the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.  Prohibited discrimination against workers based on citizenship, national origin or other prohibited grounds exposes employers to private lawsuits by workers seeking damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other remedies.  In addition to these private exposures, the suit against Omnibus Express shows that the readiness of the Justice Department to enforce the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States free from prohibited discrimination based on citizenship.

Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division affirmed this commitment in the announcement of the Justice Department suit against Omnibus Express, stating “We are committed to enforcing the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States.”

Accordingly, all businesses should make the tightened risk management of their INA anti-discrimination risks part of a broader emphasis on the prevention and management of their organization’s discrimination exposures generally.

As part of these risk management efforts, organizations should:

  • Review and update their understanding of current anti-discrimination rules under the INA and other laws;
  • Evaluate the adequacy of and tighten existing practices and documentation to mitigate exposures with discrimination and other laws;
  • Update and tighten management controls, investigation and other procedures to promote compliance with anti-discrimination policies and identify and mitigate exposures arising in the course of operations;
  • Conduct well-documented periodic training on these and other anti-discrimination compliance and risk management practices; and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 25 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend against employment and other anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation, union-management relations, wage and hour, and other labor and employment laws, other regulatory requirements, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee, a member of the HR.com editorial advisory board, a past National Consultants Board Member and Region IV Chair for SHRM, past Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on workforce and risk management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.  For information about engaging Ms. Stamer for representation, training or other assistance, contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


Legislation Proposes To Change Obama Care Full-Time Employee Definition

August 5, 2013

Businesses and workers concerned that the definition of “full-time” employment as 30 hours per week in the “pay-or-play” penalties of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to by the public  as “Obamacare”) is hurting American workers may want to share their input on recently introduced legislation that would raise the number of hours an employee must work to qualify as “full-time”  for purposes of the pay-or-pay penalty from 30 to 40 hours per week with members of the key Congressional Committees that will decide whether this legislation advances when Congress returns from its Summer vacation.

Growing concern about the costs and other implications of Obamacare are fueling renewed debate in Congress about the pay-or-play and other provisions of Obamacare.  Only 57 days before enrollment in coverage slated to be available as an alternative to employer coverage beginning January 1, 2014 through new federally mandated health insurance exchanges is prompting renewed debate in Congress about the full-time employee, pay-or play and other provisions of Obamacare.  As Congress takes its summer break, both sides are talking and listening to voters about health care reform. Concerned parties should share their input on Congress during this break to help shape the decisions Congress makes when it returns to work in September.

“Full-Time Employee” Definition Key Element Of  Employer’s “Pay-Or Play” Liability

Originally scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014 until the Administration on July 2, 2013 announced it would not enforce its provisions until 2015, the employer “shared responsibility” or “pay-or-play” rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H enacted as part of Obamacare have been widely criticized as killing jobs and reducing employment.

When effective, Code Section 4980H will require that businesses employing 50 or more “full-time” employees (Large Employers”) pay a tax penalty calculated in accordance with Code Section 4980H unless the Large Employer offers each “full-time employee” the opportunity to enroll himself and each of his dependent children in coverage under a qualifying health plan that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of Obamacare.

Under the current provisions of Code Section 4980H, the amount of the penalty that a Large Employer must pay is:

  • $168 per employee per month for any month that the employer doesn’t offer minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee and has at least one full-time employee who receives a subsidy or tax credit for enrolling in coverage under one of the health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare (Subsidized Employee);
  • $250 per employee month multiplied by the number of full-time employees of the business that are Subsidized Employees if the employer offers coverage under the health plan that provides minimum essential coverage but the health plan fails to meet the minimum value or affordability standards of Code Section 4980H; or
  • $0 if the employer either offers health plan coverage that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability requirements of Code Section 4980H or doesn’t have any full-time employees who are Subsidized Employees.

30-Hour Full-Time Definition Reducing Full-Time Employment Opportunities

As the original January 1, 2014 implementation date of Code Section 4980H has approached, original largely Republican concern about its unintended adverse impact on employment increasingly has grown amid widespread reports that businesses are avoiding hiring and reducing employee hours to minimize exposures to Code Section 4980H-driven costs. See, e.g. Obamacare’s Employer Penalty And Its Impact On Temporary Workers;  States Cutting Employee Hours To Avoid Obama Care Costs; Americans Who Voted For Obama Now Seeing Weekly Job Hours Slashed Below 30 As Obamacare Kicks In.  Particularly embarrassing among these reports include the recent report that even a call center hired by the Administration to help promote enrollment coverage offered through the Obamacare-created  exchanges is limiting the hours its employees can work to under 30 hours per week.  ObamaCare Call Center To Keep Employees Under 30 Hours/Week.

As businesses already struggling to deal with a tough economy moved to minimize the number of their full-time employees, even labor unions that originally supported Obamacare joined the cry for reform of its provisions to mitigate employment losses resulting from employer efforts to minimize Code Section 4980H exposures.  See Companies Cut Hours Of Full-Time Employees To Avoid Providing Health Care Under New Rules.

S. 1188/H.R. 2575 Would Make Full-Time Mean 40 Hours Per Week

Prompted by growing concern about the apparent adverse impact of Obamacare on job opportunities for hourly workers, legislation now is pending in both the House and Senate to amend the Obamacare’s definition of “full-time.” In June, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) Collins introduced a bill to amend  Code Section 4980H to change the definition of full-time employee for purpose of the shared responsibility provisions of Obamacare,  S. 1188: Forty Hours Is Full Time Act to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 to 40 hours per week and the number of hours counted toward a “full-time equivalent” employee to 174 hours per month.  Representative Todd Young (R-IN) then introduced a similar provision in the House on June 28, 2013, H.R. 2575, Save American Workers Act of 2013

H.R. 2575 has garnered the support of 144 Cosponsors.  H.R. 2575.  Following its introduction, the House assigned H.R. 2575 to the House Ways and Means Committee, whose members now must decide when and if the bill will advance in the House.  Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee who will make this decision on include the following Committee Members:  Dave Camp; Sander Levin; Charles Boustany Jr.; Kevin Brady (Chair, Subcommittee on Health); Sam Johnson; Devin Nunes; David Reichert (Chair, Subcommittee on Human Resources);  Patrick “Pat” Tiberi; Xavier Becerra; Diane Black Earl Blumenauer; Vern Buchanan; Joseph Crowley; Danny Davis; Lloyd Doggett;  Jim Gerlach; Tim Griffin; Lynn Jenkins; Mike Kelly; Ron Kind; John Larson; John Lewis; Kenny Marchant; Jim McDermott; Richard Neal; Bill Pascrell Jr.;  Erik Paulsen; Tom Price; Charles Rangel; Tom Reed II, James Renacci; Peter Roskam; Paul Ryan; Aaron Schock; Allyson Schwartz; Adrian Smith; Linda Sánchez; Mike Thompson; and the Bill’s sponsor, Todd Young.

Although introduced before H.R. 2575, S. 1188 to date has drawn less interest among members of the Senate.  The Senate referred S. 1188 to the Senate Finance Committee, where to date, that Committee has not taken any further action. It presently has 8 cosponsors, 7 of which are Republicans.  See S. 1181 Cosponsors.  With Democrats the Majority Party in the Senate, many expect the bill to require significant public pressure and support for the Committee to report the bill out from the Committee, which presently is Chaired by Democrat Max Baucus.  Other Senate Finance Committee members include Orrin Hatch; Michael Bennet; Sherrod Brown; Robert “Bob” Casey Jr.; John “Jay” Rockefeller IV; Debbie Stabenow; Ron Wyden; Richard Burr; Maria Cantwell; Benjamin Cardin; John Cornyn; Michael Crapo;  Michael Enzi; Charles “Chuck” Grassley;  John “Johnny” Isakson; Robert “Bob” Menéndez; Bill Nelson; Robert “Rob” Portman; Pat Roberts; Charles Schumer; John Thune; and Patrick “Pat” Toomey.

This past weekend, S. 1188’s sponsor, Maine Senator Susan Collins sought to beef up support for the bill.  In urging support for her bill, Senator Collins said the health care law’s 30-hour per week definition kills jobs. “Obamacare is actually discouraging small businesses from creating jobs and hiring new employees,” she said. “The law also has perverse incentives for employers to reduce the number of hours that their employees can work.”

How To Contact Key Committees To Show Support or Share Other Feedback

Individuals wishing to share their support or other input about S. 1181 with the Senate Finance Committee can call (202) 224-4515 or  send their written input to the Senate Committee on Finance members via fax to (202) 228-0554.

Support or other input on H.R. 2575 should be sent via fax to House Ways & Means Committee members via fax to (202) 225-2610 or by calling the Committee office at (202) 225-3625.

Committee members and other members of Congress also generally can be contacted via e-mail through the link provided on each member’s webpage.  Because security precautions generally delay delivery of mail to members of Congress for 7-10 days, concerned individuals generally are encouraged to contact the Committee or other members of Congress via fax or e-mail.

Stay In Touch & Join The Discussion On Health Care Reform

Want to stay in touch with the latest developments on health care reform and get involved with helping to share  meaningful improvements in U.S. health care and workforce policy and our health care and health care insurance system?   The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.  We also encourage you to participate in our Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment initiative here to share ideas, discuss issues, and access and share tools and other resources.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

 

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


Employers & Insurers Reminded Of July 31 Deadline To Pay New ACA-Required PCORI Fees

July 26, 2013

Employers sponsoring self-insured group health plans and insurers are reminded that the deadline to report and pay the fee new fees required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is July 31, 2013.

The PCORI fee, required to be reported annually on the second quarter Form 720 and paid by its due date, July 31, is based on the average number of lives covered under the policy or plan.  The annually required PCORI fee applies to policy or plan years ending on or after October 1, 2012, and before October. 1, 2019.

The PCORI fee is just one of a number of new fees and costs that ACA imposes upon employers and individuals as part of the health care reforms enacted under ACA.

Employers of more than 50 full-time employees recently received a temporary retrieve from another of these looming potential fees, the employer “shared responsibility” payment that ACA added to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under new Code Section 4980H.

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will delay until 2015 enforcement of the employer shared responsibility or “pay-or-play” rules of Code Section 4980H.  See July 2 Blog and Notice 2013-45.   Slated prior to the delayed enforcement announcement to take effect January 1, 2014, the employer shared responsibility rules generally will require employers which individually or collectively with other commonly controlled or affiliated employers employee 50 or more full-time employees that do not offer group health coverage that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of the Affordable Care Act to pay an “assessment” that the Supreme Court ruled last year to be a tax, as well as to comply with certain reporting requirements.

While Notice 2013-45 gives large more time to prepare to comply with Code Section 4980H, it provides no relief from the obligation to pay the PCORI fee or from other group health plan mandates imposed by ACA or other applicable federal laws.  Consequently, as businesses continue to prepare for the delayed implementation of Code Section 4980H in 2015, they also need to ensure that they timely pay any required PCORI fees and meet other applicable federal group health plan mandates as they continue to diligently prepare to deal with Code Section 4980H.

While businesses work to meet current and impending federal health plan responsibilities, most business leaders also will want to continue to closely monitor and provide regular input to members of Congress and regulators on proposed regulatory and enforcement guidance and potential Congressional amendments to the Affordable Care Act or other health care or tax policy reforms.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


Use New Government Health Care Reform Resources With Care

July 22, 2013

While large employers are getting an additional year to collect data and make other preparations to comply with the “pay-or-play” rules in the shared responsibility provisions of new Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H under the extension announced by the Administration in early July, all employers still have much to do stay on top of the developing rules and make the arrangements necessary to prepare to comply with the current and 2014 federal health plan mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal laws.

As the Departments of Health & Human Services, Labor and Treasury continue to refine and roll out guidance implementing these rules, the agencies recently released various updated resources discussing these evolving rules.   Among others, Publication 5093, Healthcare Law Online Resources, lists ACA resources from the IRS, the Departments of Health & Human Services and Labor, and the Small Business Administration.  Meanwhile, IRS.gov and HealthCare.gov also have new ACA webpages.

While these updated resources are intended by the agencies to help acquaint businesses with ACA’s requirements, businesses and the insurers and administrators that offer health benefit services need to keep in mind that these resources have risk and limitations.  As the agencies are continuing to refine the rules, these resources often do not reflect the most current or emerging guidance or status of rules.  Additionally, government provided explanations, model forms and resources often incorporate provisions or interpretations that are biased against the interests of the businesses,  or contain other provisions that may not fully inform the business to all of its options.  Furthermore, because of limitations in jurisdiction and other constraints, guidance issued by an agency or agency that reflects that certain approaches may satisfy the requirements of the rules specifically addressed by the guidance often do not disclose or adequately communicate potential concerns with certain types of actions under other applicable requirements.

For instance,  model exchange notices published by the Department of Labor this Spring to assist employers to provide the notifications about federal exchange coverage options that ACA requires employers distribute by October 1 contain many provisions beyond the content actually required to meet the notice requirements.  The Labor Department in announcing the model notices indicated that its model language includes discretionary provisions which the Department thought some employers might want to include to minimize questions from employees about employer provided benefits that employees interested in pursuing subsidized coverage could be expected to need to apply for subsidies.  While as of now, exchanges and subsidies still are scheduled to come on line January 1, 2014, the Obama Administration extended the employer “pay-or-play” mandate of Code Section 4980 and its associated employer reporting requirements, as well as has established that it does not plan to verify eligibility for subsidies requested by individuals enrolling in exchanges in 2014.  Given this, most employers will want to consider carefully the specific content that they wish to include in the exchange notice as they prepare the notice in anticipation of its distribution in October.Accordingly, all businesses dealing with these issues are encouraged to arrange for comprehensive advice from qualified legal counsel familiar with these requirements and other related human resources, health care, insurance and employee benefit issues.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other human resources, employee benefit, or other compliance, risk management, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Nationally recognized for her extensive work, publications and leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience representing, advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical and other privacy and data security, employment, employee benefits, and to handle other compliance and risk management policies and practices; to investigate and respond to OCR and other enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, State Bar of Texas and American Bar Association, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, the Former Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer serves as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR. Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights  on HIPAA and other data privacy and security concerns appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the third year will serve in 2013 as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

In addition to this extensive HIPAA specific experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her experience and skill aiding clients with a diverse range of other employment, employee benefits, health and safety, public policy, and other compliance and risk management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board and expert panels of HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, and Solutions Law Press, Inc., management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer has 25 years of experience helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices.   Ms. Stamer often has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters.  In addition to her continuous day-to-day involvement helping businesses to manage employment and employee benefit plan concerns, she also has extensive public policy and regulatory experience with these and other matters domestically and internationally.  A former member of the Executive Committee of the Texas Association of Business and past Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, Ms. Stamer served as a primary advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization law, and has been intimately involved in federal, state, and international workforce, health care, pension and social security, tax, education, immigration, education and other legislative and regulatory reform in the US and abroad.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

For help  with these or other compliance concerns, to ask about compliance audit or training, or for legal representation on these or other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here and reading some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ human resources news here including the following:

“Pay Or Play” Reprieve Still Leaves Employers Facing Challenging 2014 Health Care Reform Deadlines

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


OCR Warns Others Learn From WellPoint’s $1.7 M HIPAA Settlement

July 12, 2013

WellPoint $1.7 M HIPAA Settlement Expensive Lesson On HIPAA Risks Of Leaving PHI Too Accessible In Web-Based Applications

As health plans and health care organizations increasingly jump on the Web-based application bandwagon, managed care company WellPoint Inc. (WellPoint) is learning a $1.7 million lesson about the importance of ensuring Web-based applications and portals that allow access to members or other consumers protected health information (PHI) have the administrative, technical and other security safeguards required by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security rules.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced late yesterday (July 11, 2013) that WellPoint has agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle OCR charges that WellPoint violated the HIPAA Security Rule and left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet by failing to implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards in its Web-based applications. See WellPoint HIPAA Settlement Press Release.

Web-based application use is increasingly popular among health plans and their wellness programs, as well as health care providers.  Employers and health plans use them both in plan administration and offer them to members to use as member tools.  Health care providers use them for health care operations, as well as patient engagement and communication tools.  The WellPoint settlement illustrates that managed care and other health insurers, health plans and their employer or other sponsors, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can’t let their enthusiasm for the ease of use of these products to compromise the security of PHI.

Rather, health plans and other Covered Entities, employer and other  health plan sponsors, their business associates, and the Web and other technology developers, providers and consultants marketing products, services or other solutions should learn from WellPoint’s hard lesson by ensuring that current and future Web-based applications, portals and other information system components that are or could be used to provide access to PHI incorporate the Security Rule safeguards both when originally implemented and with each subsequent upgrade.

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rules Require PHI Safeguards & Other Protections

The Breach Notification Rule added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify OCR, affected individuals and the media promptly of a breach of “unsecured protected health information” (UPHI) impacting more than 500 individuals.  For smaller breaches, the Breach Notification Rule still requires prompt notice to affected individuals, but allows Covered Entities to disclose the breach to OCR as part of an annual breach report and to forego notification to the media. UPHI generally includes any PHI, whether or not ePHI that is not either secured or destroyed in the way described by the Breach Notification Rules.

In addition to the Breach Notification Rule, most Covered Entities and their business associates also are subject to state laws or regulations that impose similar or additional breach notification and other standards and responsibilities on the protection of personal health or other data including required notification and other responses following a breach of the security of UPHI or other PHI.

WellPoint’s $1.7 HIPAA Security Mistake

WellPoint’s $1.7 million settlement lesson resulted from an OCR investigation started in response to a breach report WellPoint submitted to comply with the Breach Notification Rules.

According to OCR, the Breach Report indicated that security weaknesses in an online application database left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet.

OCR says its investigation indicated that WellPoint did not implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards as required under the HIPAA Security Rule.  According to OCR, WellPoint did not:

  • Adequately implement policies and procedures for authorizing access to the on-line application database;
  • Perform an appropriate  technical evaluation in response to a software upgrade to its information systems; or
  • Have technical safeguards in place to verify the person or entity seeking access to electronic protected health information maintained in its application database.

As a result, OCR concluded that from October 23, 2009 until March 7, 2010, WellPoint impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 612,402 individuals by allowing access to their ePHI maintained in the application database. This data included names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and health information.

Under the resulting WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement, WellPoint must pay OCR a $1.7 million settlement payment as well as take a series of corrective actions to correct the deficiencies in its policies and practices that resulted in the reported breach to minimize future risks of breaches resulting from these deficient.

OCR Warns Learn From WellPoint’s Experience

All Covered Entities and their business associates and leaders should heed the lesson sent to them by OCR in announcing the WellPoint settlement and take appropriate steps other to ensure that appropriate policies and safeguards are adopted and applied in selecting and implementing future application or system upgrades, as well as review existing systems to ensure that the security of existing systems and applications have incorporated and apply the requisite safeguards.

OCR made clear that the WellPoint settlement is intended to send a message to Covered Entities and their business associates to ensure that these steps are appropriately taken.  The settlement announcement states:

This case sends an important message to HIPAA-covered entities to take caution when implementing changes to their information systems, especially when those changes involve updates to Web-based applications or portals that are used to provide access to consumers’ health data using the Internet. Whether systems upgrades are conducted by covered entities or their business associates, HHS expects organizations to have in place reasonable and appropriate technical, administrative and physical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information – especially information that is accessible over the Internet.

The settlement announcement also reminds business associates that OCR will begin holding them directly accountable along with their Covered Entity clients for complying with many HIPAA requirements beginning in September, stating:

Beginning Sept. 23, 2013, liability for many of HIPAA’s requirements will extend directly to business associates that receive or store protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors.

Take Documented Steps To Show You Hear OCR’s Messages

Covered entities and their business associates and leaders, and vendors and consultants offering services or products to them should take care to conduct careful and well-documented reviews and implement corrective actions necessary to show their applications and systems, policies and practices reflect their strong commitment and action to appropriately protect PHI in accordance with the expectations shown by the WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement and other OCR settlements, OCR’s updated HIPAA regulations, and other OCR and industry information.

In addition to the guidance set forth in OCR’s Resolution Agreements with WellPoint and other Covered Entities, revisions to OCR’s Privacy and Security Rules in OCR’s 2013 restatement of its regulations here cause all Covered Entities and their business associates conduct a well-documented reassessment of the adequacy of their existing policies, systems and practices and steps taken to redress any uncovered gaps.

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

  • Revise OCR’s HIPAA regulations to reflect the HITECH Act’s amendment of HIPAA to add the contractors and subcontractors of health plans, health care providers and health care clearinghouses that qualify as business associates to the parties directly responsible for complying with and subject to HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties for violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules;
  • Update previous interim regulations implementing HITECH Act breach notification rules that require Covered Entities including business associates to give specific notifications to individuals whose PHI is breached, HHS and in some cases, the media when a breach of unsecured information happens;
  • Update interim enforcement guidance OCR previously published to implement increased penalties and other changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions enacted by the HITECH Act;
  • Implement HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA that tighten the conditions under which Covered Entities are allowed to use or disclose PHI for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibit Covered Entities from selling an individual’s health information without getting the individual’s authorization in the manner required by the 2013 Regulations;
  • Update OCR’s rules about the individual rights that HIPAA requires that Covered Entities to afford to individuals who are the subject of PHI used or possessed by a Covered Entity to reflect tightened requirements enacted by the HITECH Act  that allow individuals to order their health care provider not to share information about their treatment with health plans when the individual pays cash for the care and to clarify that individuals can require Covered Entities to provide electronic PHI in electronic form;
  • Revise the regulations to reflect amendments to HIPAA made as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which added genetic information to the definition of PHI protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and prohibits health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes; and
  • Clarifies and revises other provisions to reflect other interpretations and information guidance that OCR has issued since HIPAA was passed and to make certain other changes that OCR found appropriate based on its experience administering and enforcing the rules.

Covered Entities were required to begin complying with most of these rule changes earlier this year.  However, delayed compliance dates in the 2013 Regulations allowed Covered Entities and Business Associates to delay updates to pre-existing business associate agreements and the date that OCR would begin enforcing many of the HIPAA Rules directly against business associates to September 23, 2013.

Even without the necessity Settlements like that involving WellPoint, these 2013 Regulations make it imperative that Covered Entities to take the necessary steps to conduct an appropriate and well-documented review  and update as needed their systems, policies and practices,  business associate agreements, training and documentation.

With self-disclosures of breaches mandated by the Breach Notification Rules and OCR audits and enforcement rising, careful documentation of these activities and its analysis is necessary so that Covered Entities can be in a position to show OCR that the risk assessments required by the Security Rules was conducted as well as the efforts and commitment of the Covered Entity or business associate in the event of a breach investigation or audit. Yesterday’s WellPoint HIPAA announcement is just the latest in an ever-growing list of examples of the expensive consequences that can result if a Covered Entity or business associate cannot produce this documentation in response to an OCR audit or investigation. See, e.g.  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other SafeguardsIn contrast, the OCR website also provides a multitude of examples showing how the ability to produce documentation and other evidence showing diligent efforts to comply has helped other covered entities that fall under OCR investigation to avoid or mitigate serious sanctions.

Coupled with statements by OCR about its intolerance, the WellPoint and other settlements provide a strong warning to covered entities of the need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA encryption and other Privacy and Security responsibilities. Covered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.

In response to the 2013 Regulations and these expanding exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions against WellPoint and others, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.  Covered Entities and business associates should document this review in a manner that both reflects the scope and diligence of their activities including relevant considerations and decision-making about identified potential susceptibilities and reasoning about the adequacy of safeguards and other solutions.

Because this review is likely to uncover existing or past deficiencies or breaches, most covered entities and business associates will want to discuss with qualified legal counsel the planned assessment within the scope of attorney-client privilege to understand when and how to conduct the assessment to preserve options to claim attorney-client privilege to protect sensitive work product or discussions that may result in the course of the investigation within the attorney-client communication, work product or other evidentiary privileges, evaluation of the adequacy and appropriateness of the audit and resulting investigations and its documentation, and other assistance in strengthening the defensibility of compliance and risk management activities.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other human resources, employee benefit, or other compliance, risk management, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Nationally recognized for her extensive work, publications and leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience representing, advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical and other privacy and data security, employment, employee benefits, and to handle other compliance and risk management policies and practices; to investigate and respond to OCR and other enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, State Bar of Texas and American Bar Association, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, the Former Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer serves as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR. Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights  on HIPAA and other data privacy and security concerns appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the third year will serve in 2013 as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

In addition to this extensive HIPAA specific experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her experience and skill aiding clients with a diverse range of other employment, employee benefits, health and safety, public policy, and other compliance and risk management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board and expert panels of HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, and Solutions Law Press, Inc., management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer has 25 years of experience helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices.   Ms. Stamer often has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters.  In addition to her continuous day-to-day involvement helping businesses to manage employment and employee benefit plan concerns, she also has extensive public policy and regulatory experience with these and other matters domestically and internationally.  A former member of the Executive Committee of the Texas Association of Business and past Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, Ms. Stamer served as a primary advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization law, and has been intimately involved in federal, state, and international workforce, health care, pension and social security, tax, education, immigration, education and other legislative and regulatory reform in the US and abroad.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

For help  with these or other compliance concerns, to ask about compliance audit or training, or for legal representation on these or other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here and reading some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ human resources news here including the following:

“Pay Or Play” Reprieve Still Leaves Employers Facing Challenging 2014 Health Care Reform Deadlines

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


“Pay Or Play” Reprieve Still Leaves Employers Facing Challenging 2014 Health Care Reform Deadlines

July 11, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) yesterday (July 10, 2013) shared its first “formal” guidance officially implementing the Obama Administration’s decision to delay until 2015 enforcement of certain of the employer shared responsibility or “pay-or-play” rules of new Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H first informally announced by Department of Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazar in this July 2 Blog.

Notice 2013-45 outlines the specific “transition relief” rules under which the IRS says it will forego during 2014 enforcement of the employer shared responsibility penalty tax rules and associated and information reporting requirements that are slated to take effect for single employers or groups of commonly controlled or affiliated employers that employ 50 or more full-time employees (Large Employers) beginning January 1, 2014 as part of the sweeping health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).  Even with the extension of time allowed by Notice 2013-45 to prepare to comply with Code Section 4980H, however, employers and insurers have much to do to prepare.

The first priority for employers wishing to take advantage of added time to comply with Affordable Care Act’s pay or play penalty to maximize their planning opportunities and to minimize their potential Code Section 4980H consequences should be to clean up worker classifications, to track all hours worked for all employees and collect all other relevant employee data.

Notice 2013-45 Confirms IRS Won’t Enforce Code Section 4980H In 2014

The transitional relief in Notice 2013-45 comes as businesses have struggled to understand and come to grips with the requirements of new Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H that beginning January 1, 2014, a Large Employer  calculate and pay the applicable “assessable payment” tax  under Section 4980H for each month that it fails to offer each full-time employee group health plan coverage meeting Code Section 4980H’s “minimum essential coverage,” “minimum  value” and “affordability standards” if any full-time employee receives a subsidy for enrolling in coverage through a health insurance exchange.

Specifically, Notice 2013-45 waives IRS enforcement only for 2014 and only of:

  • The information reporting requirements applicable to insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage (MEC) under Code Section 6055 (6055 Reporting);
  • The information reporting requirements applicable to applicable large employers under Code Section 6056 (6056 Reporting);  and
  • The obligation to pay tax penalties under the employer shared responsibility provisions under Code Section 4980H (4980H Tax).

This relief is limited in both scope and duration.  Notably, Notice 2013-58 states:

  • Its provisions have no effect on the effective date or application of the multitude of other new mandates that have or will kick in coming months in connection with the impending 2014 Affordable Care Act reforms; and
  • The IRS plans that the tax penalty provisions of Code Section 4980H and the information reporting requirements of Code Sections 6055 and 6056 “will be fully effective for 2015.”

While the IRS is promising in Notice 2013-45 that the IRS will not require any payments by any employer under Code Section 4980H for 2014, it also urges Large Employers other affected entities to prepare for 2015 by voluntarily complying with the information reporting provisions (once the information reporting rules have been issued) in 2014 including conducting “real-world testing of reporting systems and plan designs” and continuing employer-provided coverage.

Relief Leaves Large Employers & Other Employers With Much Work To Do

While Notice 2013-45 gives Large Employers more time to prepare to comply as well as to communicate with the IRS about the need and options for simplification, employers should continue to aggressively prepare for compliance. The IRS says it intends to fully enforce the rules against Large Employers beginning in 2015 and to implement other Affordable Care Act provisions.  Consequently, employers that know or question if they may be Large Employers, their insurers, service providers and advisors should continue to diligently prepare to deal with Code Section 4980H, as well as other federal health plan rules.  Accordingly, Large Employers, their insurers and advisors could continue to diligently prepare to prepare to manage their impending Code Section 4980H responsibilities and liabilities.

1.  Start With Worker Classification, Time & Income Data Collection & Recordkeeping

Employers wishing to use this reprieve to their best advantage should start by ensuring that they clean up and tighten their worker classification and time tracking practices.  This should start with auditing the classification of all workers providing services as employees, contractors or otherwise  to be sure that they are properly classified.  Code Section 4980H takes into account all workers who are under they facts and circumstances test applied by the Code “common law employees” for purposes of deciding what employers are covered by Code Section 4980H and calculating the penalties, if any owning.  Many businesses mistakenly fail to recognize a wide range of workers considered by the business to work as contractors, leased employees or in other capacities are likely to be considered by the IRS to be common law employees for purposes of these rules.  Ensuring that the business has properly accounted for all workers that the IRS is likely to view as common law employees is essential to any reliable planning or cost projection.

Beyond having an appropriate understanding of what individuals are considered common law employees, businesses also should seek to track accurately all hours worked, regardless of whether the employees are non-exempt workers that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the employer pay hourly, or exempt employees under the FLSA that the employer pays on a salaried, commission or other non-hourly basis.  Under existing Code Section 4980H rules, employers that don’t have accurate time records for employees must rely upon safe-harbor rules for identifying workers that are considered full-time.  These safe harbor rules credit hours in such a way that tends to overstate the number of full-time employees and full-time equivalent employees.

In workforces where many employees many receive significant additional family income from the earnings of a spouse, another job or other sources, employers also may want to add processes to verify actual household adjusted gross income  (HAGI) for purposes of identifying which of its full-time employees, whose HAGI actually is below the 400 percent of the poverty level required to qualify to receive subsidies when enrolling in coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange.

2. Other To Dos

Other helpful preparations also generally will include:

  • Seeking and monitoring developing guidance about the meaning of minimum essential coverage and other associated rules;
  • Providing meaningful input to the IRS, the Department of Health & Human Services, Congress and others on the need for and options to simplify time and other data and reporting requirements,  employer interactions and data requests for verification of exchange subsidy eligibility and other purposes;
  • Evaluating and adjusting workforce and benefit practices, time and other record keeping systems, and plan designs;
  • Evaluating workflow and staffing practices to determine the potential advantages of using certain measurement, stability or administrative periods, safe harbors and other options for purposes of applying Code Section 4980H, making changes in workforce or staffing practices, redesigning benefits or other adjustments; and
  • Working with management, vendors and others to identify and change plan designs; and
  • Completing other preparations to cope with the rules.

While continuing these preparations to comply with Code Section 4980H in 2015, Large Employers as well as other businesses also need to get busy finalizing preparations for the upcoming 2014 plan year, particularly in the face of fast approaching notice deadlines. Employers are under the gun to finalize and implement plan design, vendor and other decisions and complete other preparations to prepare and deliver these and other materials on time, updated in time to meet new or revised federal health plan requirements under the Affordable Care Act and other laws.  The impending Affordable Care Act-imposed deadlines to deliver newly mandated exchange notices by October 1 and updated “Summaries of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBCs” by the beginning of their next enrollment period significantly shortens the time for employers to finalize their plan designs.  Under existing SBC rules, employers that amend their plans after the beginning of an annual enrollment period must update and resend SBCs to plan members.  Furthermore, Federal rules also now generally require health plan administrators provide 60 days advance notice to plan members of plan amendments that materially reduce coverage or benefits.  Therefore all employers regardless of size will want to ensure that their plans and associated contracts are finalized quickly to adequately meet these requirements without incurring the added expense of updating and redistributing their SBCs.

As part of these efforts, all businesses generally should act quickly and diligently to:

  • Carefully credential and contract with insurers, administrators, consultants and other plan service providers and advisors to document expectations and commitments about compliance, quality assurance, fiduciary and other responsibility and status, indemnification and other accountability and other matters including updated business associate commitments where required to comply with recently changes in the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act generally required no later than September 24, 2013 for all existing plan business associates);
  • Audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege all existing employee and alternative workforce arrangements and patterns to confirm that all common law employees properly are identified and classified and that appropriate arrangements are in place to track and document time and other relevant information to position the business reliably its responsibilities and defend its action for Code Section 4980H and other federal health plan, Fair Labor Standards Act and other compliance purposes;
  • Consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege about any legally required or otherwise desired adjustments to worker classification or other workforce practices to minimize Affordable Care Act or other liabilities;
  • Finalize decisions about what health benefits, if any that their business will offer to what employees in the upcoming plan years and carefully contract with vendors, update plan documents, the SBCs, summary plan descriptions and other materials for the upcoming plan year before the first day of the next enrollment period;
  • Carefully amend and update plan documents, summary plan descriptions, SBCs, privacy practices notices and other required notices, communications and forms to the extent possible, before the upcoming enrollment period to minimize inconsistencies, and to be able to package required notices, summary plan descriptions and other communication and enrollment materials to take advantage of the opportunity to minimize distribution expenses;
  • Complete the necessary decisions and arrangements to prepare and send the exchange notice that the Affordable Care Act requires be delivered for the first time by October 1, 2013; and
  • Finalize other preparations for the upcoming plan year.

Monitor & Provide Input On Proposed Tax & Health Care Reform

While businesses work to meet current and impending federal health plan responsibilities, most business leaders also will want to continue to closely monitor and provide regular input to members of Congress and regulators on proposed amendments to the Affordable Care Act or other health care or tax policy reforms.

Despite a projected $ 5 billion reduction in federal budget revenue from non-enforcement of Code Section 4980H in 2014, the Administration is moving ahead aggressively to implement other Affordable Care Act reforms as scheduled.   Notice 2013-45 states that the Administration plans to continue to provide subsidies pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for individuals earning less than 400% of the Federal poverty level who enroll in health coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange, which the Administration has rebranded and now refers to as “Marketplaces.”  Furthermore, the Administration separately announced on July 5, 2013 that individuals will be allowed to apply for and claim these subsidies based on an “honor system” in 2014; the Administration will not require verification of eligibility.

Even before the IRS announced the relief now formalized by Notice 2013-45, the rising federal budget costs of the Affordable Care Act was fueling concern.  In March, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that after having already spent more than $394 million on exchange efforts, the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion added to the budget to cover the  additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and run the federal exchanges. See GAO Report and  GAO Report.  Foregoing enforcement of Code Section 4980H, verification of subsidy eligibility and other unexpected costs resulting from glitches in the preparation and rollout of the Affordable Care Act reforms for 2014 are adding to the growing costs and projected budgetary impact of the Affordable Care Acts on the federal budget.  With existing budget shortfalls already fueling pressure for increased tax revenues, businesses and individuals concerned about tax liability will want to carefully monitor and provide input to Congressional leaders on health care and tax reform.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


HHS Continues Preparations For New Health Insurance Marketplace By Awarding Grants To Promote Kids Enrollment

July 2, 2013

As part of its continuing efforts to promote enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace slated to take effect January 1, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today (July 2, 2013) announced the award of nearly $32 million in grants for efforts to identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grants were awarded to 41 state agencies, community health centers, school-based organizations and non-profit groups in 22 states; two grantees are multistate organizations.  The announcement comes as employers and others continue to express concern about the sufficiency of preparations and HHS’ recent rollout of online tools to aid consumers enroll in the new Health Care Marketplace scheduled to launch January 1, 2014 as part of the continuing implementation of reforms enacted as part of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

Announced Grants Target Increased CHIP & Medicaid Enrollment In Preparation For Health Care Marketplace

In amounts ranging from $190,000 to $1 million out of the $140 million included in the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009 for enrollment and renewal outreach,  HHS Reports the grants awarded to the grantees listed here focus on 5 areas:

  • Engaging schools in outreach, enrollment and retention activities (9 awards);
  • Reducing health coverage disparities by reaching out to subgroups of children that are less likely to have health coverage (8 awards);
  • Streamlining enrollment for individuals participating in other public benefit programs such as nutritional or other assistance programs (3 awards);
  • Improving application assistance resources to provide high quality, reliable Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal services in local communities (13 awards); and
  • Training communities to help families understand the new application and enrollment system and to deliver effective assistance to families with children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (8 awards).

According to HHS, the grants will build on the Secretary’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful.

According to HHS, Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grant Awards (Cycle III) Efforts to streamline Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal practices, combined with robust outreach activities, have helped reduce the number of uninsured children.  Since 2008,  HHS claims 1.7 million children have gained coverage and the rate of uninsured children has dropped to 6.6 percent in 2012

“Today’s grants will ensure that more children across the nation have access to the quality health care they need,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We are drawing from successful children’s health coverage outreach and enrollment efforts to help promote enrollment this fall in Medicaid and the new Health Insurance Marketplace.”

Continuing Preparations For New Health Care Marketplace

 The grant awards are part of a much broader effort by HHS to prepare Americans to enroll in the newly reformed Health Insurance Marketplace that the Obama Administration is working to implement as part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment is the Health Insurance Exchanges also to be included in the new federal health care marketplace is scheduled to begin October 1, 2013.  In anticipation of this deadline, HHS recently also announced its rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed www.healthcare.gov  website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report.

Meanwhile, employers of 50 or more full-time employees and others also have complained that delayed and incomplete guidance has prevented them from understanding their obligations and moving to complete preparations to comply with the new employer mandates by delaying private market reforms and employer preparations.  These problems have been further complicated by recent media coverage and public debate about the access to sensitive personal health care, financial information and the role of the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies under the Affordable Care Act following recent charges that certain Internal Revenue Service officials improperly targeted certain charitable organization and their organizers as part of application approval and audits.

Despite these concerns, HHS is marching ahead on its efforts to implement the law by launching these and other enrollment and educational outreach.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other Affordable Care Act compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


HHS Touts Enrollment Tools, Says Exchange Enrollment Ready Despite GAO Concerns

June 26, 2013

Despite growing concerns expressed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and others about arrangements and the need for added funding to prepare for the massive conversion in the U.S. health care system slated to take effect January 1, 2014 under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA), Obama Administration officials are continuing to claim readiness to begin enrollment of Americans In federal health care marketplace on schedule on October 1, 2013 and to meet other crucial deadlines necessary to effectively implement the next wave of ACA’s health care reforms in the Department of Health & Human Service’s rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed healthcare.gov website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

According to HHS, “The new tools will help Americans understand their choices and select the coverage that best suits their needs when open enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace begins October 1.”

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, “In October, HealthCare.gov will be the online destination for consumers to compare and enroll in affordable, qualified health plans.”

Between now and the start of open enrollment, HHS says the Marketplace call center will provide educational information and, beginning Oct. 1, 2013, will help consumers with application completion and plan choice.  In addition to English and Spanish, the call center provides assistance in more than 150 languages through an interpretation and translation service.  Customer service representatives are available for assistance via a toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596 and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial 1-855-889-4325 for assistance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report such as::

  • 17 states committed to run their own exchanges have missed March 2013 deadlines on 44% of key activities;
  • Officials creating the small business exchanges still must review plans and train and certify the “navigators” that are supposed to help companies and individuals enroll in plans and complete other key arrangements;
  • A federal  the “data hub” designed to help individuals determine their eligibility and enroll in plans offered through the exchanges has only  undergone initial testing; and
  • The current planned process for coordination of data between employer and insurer plans and the health care exchanges to evaluate eligibility of the millions of Americans expected to apply for subsidies for enrolling in coverage through the exchange presently is for HHS to contact employers by telephone employers to ask if that employer asked that employee enrollee minimum essential coverage providing minimum essential value at an affordable cost that would disqualify the applicant for the subsidy.

Meanwhile, the GAO Reports also provide a glimpse at what the federal government has spent so far on preparing the federal exchanges and the data hub. They indicate that hat the Obama Administration had approximately $394 million on exchange efforts as of March 2013 including:

  • $84 million to CGI Federal, which is building the federal exchange computer infrastructure;
  • $55 million to Quality Software Services, which is building the data hub; and
  • $38 million to Booz Allen Hamilton to provide technical assistance for enrollment and eligibility.

Contractor Booz Allen Hamilton recently has drawn attention as the National Security Association contractor through which the notorious fugitive Edward Snowden allegedly accessed information he disclosed to the public about NSA surveillance of “big data” on Americans and others through the internet.

The GAO also estimated the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion from the budget to provide the Administration with the additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and operate the federal exchanges.  Existing budget concerns make it unlikely that Congress will approve these extra funds.

 

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce

June 14, 2013

Health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates should confirm their existing policies, practices and training for communicating with the media and others comply with the Privacy Rule requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule in light of a Resolution Agreement with Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights today (June 14, 2013).

Under the Resolution Agreement, SRMC agrees to pay $275,000 and implement a comprehensive corrective action plan (CAP) to settle an investigation that resulted when SRMC used and disclosed protected health information (PHI) of a patient to members of the media and its workforce while trying to do damage control against fraud or other allegations of misconduct involving individual patient information or circumstances.  The Resolution Agreement shows how efforts to respond to press or media reports, patient or other complaints, physician or employee disputes, high profile accidents, or other events that may involve communications not typically run by privacy officers can create big exposures.  While the Resolution Agreement targets a health care provider, the lessons are equally applicable to health plans and health care clearinghouses, who increasingly face their own pressure to communicate with the media and others about enforcement actions, workforce claims and other matters.

Talking Out Of Turn To Media & Others Violated HIPAA

OCR investigated SRMC after a January 4, 2012 Los Angeles Times article reported two SRMC senior leaders had met with media to discuss medical services provided to a patient.  OCR’s investigation indicated that SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s protected health information (PHI) from impermissible disclosure by intentionally disclosing PHI to multiple media outlets on at least three separate occasions, without a valid written authorization. OCR’s review also revealed senior management at SRMC impermissibly shared details about the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment in an email to the entire workforce.  Further, SRMC failed to sanction its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s records pursuant to its internal sanctions policy.

Among other things, the specific misconduct uncovered by HHS’s investigation indicated that from December 13 – 20, 2011, SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s PHI from any impermissible intentional or unintentional disclosure on multiple occasions in connection with its response to media coverage arising from a Medicare fraud story including:

  • On December 13, 2011, for instance, OCR reports SRMC’s parent company sent a letter to California Watch, responding to a story about Medicare fraud. The letter described  the patient’s medical treatment and provided specifics about her lab results even though SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this news outlet.
  • On December 16, 2011, two of SRMC’s senior leaders also met with The Record Searchlight’s editor to discuss the patient’s medical record in detail even though SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this newspaper.
  • On December 20, 2011, SRMC sent a letter to The Los Angeles Times, which contained detailed information about the treatment  the patient received when, again, SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this newspaper.

In addition, OCR found SRMC impermissibly used the affected party’s PHI  when on December 20, 2011, SRMC sent an email to its entire workforce and medical staff, approximately 785-900 individuals, describing, in detail,  the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment. SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to share this information with SRMC’s entire workforce and medical staff.

SRMC Must Correct & Pay $$275K Penalty

Under the Resolution Agreement, SRMC pays a $275,000 monetary settlement and agrees to comply with a CAP for the next year.

The CAP requires SRMC to update its policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from impermissible uses and disclosures and to train its workforce members.  The CAP also requires fifteen other hospitals or medical centers under the same ownership or operational control as SRMC to attest to their understanding of permissible uses and disclosures of PHI, including disclosures to the media.

The Resolution Agreement specifically requires that Shasta Regional Medical Center, among other things:

  • To update policies to include specific policies about sharing PHI with the media, members of the workforce not involved in an individual patient’s care and others to comply with HIPAA;.
  • To provide updated policies to OCR for approval;
  • To provide training documented with certification of all workforce members before allowing them to get access to PHI;

SRMC is one of several Prime Healthcare Services facilities under common ownership and control.  The Resolution Agreement also requires corrective action at these commonly owned facilities including California-based Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Chino Valley Medical Center in Chino, Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville, Garden Grove Hospital Medical Center in Garden Grove,  La Palma Intercommunity Hospital in La Palma, Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, San Dimas Community Hospital in San Dimas, Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding, and West Anaheim Medical Center in Anaheim; Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada; Pennsylvania based Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol and Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia;and Texas-based Dallas Medical Center in Dallas, Harlingen Medical Center in Harlingen, Pampa Regional Medical Center in Pampa.  Among other things, the Resolution Agreement requires that for each of these related facilities:

  • The CEO and Privacy Officer of each facility must give OCR a signed affidavit stating that they understand that the Privacy Rule protects an individual’s PHI is protected by Privacy Rule even if such information is already in the public domain or even though it has been disclosed by the individual; and that disclosures of PHI in response to media inquiries are only permissible pursuant to a signed HIPAA authorization; and
  • Ensure all members of their respective workforce are informed of this policy.

The Resolution Agreement highlights the difficulty that health care providers and other covered entities often face in properly recognizing and handling PHI in the case of fraud or other disputes.  While health care providers have an understandable wish to defend themselves in the media and elsewhere in response to charges of misconduct, today’s settlement shows that improperly sharing PHI of each patient in the process will make matters much worse. It’s important to keep in mind that just omitting to mention the name or other common identifying information may not overcome this concern because information about a patient can be considered individually identifiable and to enjoy protection under HIPAA where the facts and circumstances would allow another person to know or determine who the individual is, even if the specific name, address or more common identifying information is not shared.

Furthermore, the settlement also makes clear that merely because the patient or some other party has shared the same information with the media or others does not excuse the health care provider or other covered entity or business associate from the obligation to keep confidential the PHI unless it gets proper consent or otherwise can show that an exception to HIPAA applies.

Finally, the Resolution Agreement also makes clear that OCR expects covered entities to connect their HIPAA compliance with other policies and operations and will hold covered entities and associates accountable for properly integrating, training workforce and enforcing compliance with these policies.  While this  means that covered entities and business associates may find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of facing unsavory reports and rumors without the ability to respond, the significant civil and even criminal penalties that can arise from violation of HIPAA make it critical that covered entities exercise discipline in responding to avoid sharing PHI improperly.

The 2013 Regulations Overview

Adding a review and update of HIPAA and other policies for communicating with the media and internally on matters that may involve use or discussions of PHI in unusual contexts outside the purview of typically HIPAA policies is a good idea while health plans and other covered entities and business associates are updating their existing policies and practices for compliance with updated Omnibus HIPAA Rules (2013 Regulations) implementing HITECH Act amendments to the Privacy and Security Rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  The Rulemaking announced January 17, 2013 may be viewed here.

Since 2003, HIPAA generally has required that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) restrict and safeguard individually identifiable  health care information (“PHI”) of individuals and afford other protections to individuals that are the subject of that information.  The 2013 Regulations published today complete the implementation of changes to HIPAA that Congress enacted when it passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 as well as make other changes to the prior regulations that OCR found desirable based on its experience administering and enforcing the law over the past decade.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, OCR officials have warned Covered Entities to expect an omnibus restatement of its original regulations.  While OCR had issued certain regulations implementing some of the HITECH Act changes, it waited to publish certain regulations necessary to implement other HITECH Act changes until it could complete a more comprehensive restatement of its previously published HIPAA regulations to reflect both the HITECH Act amendments and other refinements to  its HIPAA Rules. The 2013 Regulations published today fulfill  that promise by restating OCR’s HIPAA Regulations to reflect the HITECH Act Amendments and other changes and clarifications to OCR’s interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA.

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

  • Revise OCR’s HIPAA regulations to reflect the HITECH Act’s amendment of HIPAA to add the contractors and subcontractors of health plans, health care providers and health care clearinghouses that qualify as business associates to the parties directly responsible for complying with and subject to HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties for violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules;
  • Update previous interim regulations implementing HITECH Act breach notification rules that require Covered Entities including business associates to give specific notifications to individuals whose PHI is breached, HHS and in some cases, the media when a breach of unsecured information happens;
  • Update interim enforcement guidance OCR previously published to implement increased penalties and other changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions enacted by the HITECH Act;
  • Implement HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA that tighten the conditions under which Covered Entities are allowed to use or disclose PHI for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibit Covered Entities from selling an individual’s health information without getting the individual’s authorization in the way required by the 2013 Regulations;
  • Update OCR’s rules about the rights that HIPAA requires that Covered Entities to afford to individuals who are the subject of PHI used or possessed by a Covered Entity to reflect tightened requirements enacted by the HITECH Act  that allow individuals to order their health care provider not to share information about their treatment with health plans when the individual pays cash for the care and to clarify that individuals can require Covered Entities to provide electronic PHI in electronic form;
  • Revise the regulations to reflect amendments to HIPAA made as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which added genetic information to the definition of PHI protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule a