DOL Spending Reports Required As Taxpayer Tool Need Improvement

January 24, 2018

Department of Labor (DOL) and other agencies’ spending reports posted at USASpending.gov to comply withthe Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) are intended to help taxpayers, government leaders and others monitor and evaluate agency spending. However a new report from the DOL Office of Inspector General (OIG) found data reporting and other issues have compromised the reliability of the data reported in DOL reports posed on USASpending.gov.

The Data Act requires federal agencies to report spending data in accordance with new government-wide data standards developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury (Treasury).  The data reports are posted on  so taxpayers and policy makers understand how the Department is spending its funds. The Act requires federal agencies to report spending data in accordance with new government-wide data standards developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury (Treasury). The Act also requires the Inspectors General of each federal agency to conduct a review of the agency’s DATA Act compliance every two years and report on the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and quality of the agency’s data.

The new report reports OIG’s findings from a performance audit OIG performed to assess: (1) the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and quality of data submitted by the Department; and (2) the Department’s implementation and use of the Government-wide data standards established by OMB and Treasury for the Fiscal Year 2017 second quarter. While OIG found DOL effectively implemented and used the Government-wide data standards established by OMB and Treasury to prepare the reports and timely submitted the DATA Act required reports, it found numerous issues with the overall quality of the spending data it submitted for publication on USAspending.gov. Among other things, OIG reports that DOL:

  • Did not report all the required data elements for 19 percent of the transactions sampled. OIG found 77% of these errors occurred because the Department did not include Unique Record Identifiers for transactions when it was required to. This could cause issues when linking financial data with grant data on USAspending.gov.
  • 74% of the transactions sampled contained an error in one or more data elements. OIG reports many of these errors resulted from issues in the Treasury’s DATA Act broker data extraction process.
  • Excluding those errors, 52% of the transactions sampled contained inaccurate information.
  • In addition to errors uncovered from OIG’s sampling audit, DOL also reported inaccurate program activity and object class codes for 5 and 7 percent of transactions, respectively, in its File B submission.

OIG attributes these errors in accuracy and completeness occurred because of data entry mistakes, data extraction issues, and weak data validation processes and concluded that these control deficiencies will have a negative impact on the quality of the data DOL reports until corrected.

Based on these findings, OIG  has made eight recommendations to DOL’s Principal Deputy Chief Financial Officer to improve the quality of the data the DOL reports to USAspending.gov in the future and to strengthen internal controls over its data management processes.

While OIG reports DOL has concurred with these recommendations and has stated it has implemented additional controls, resulting in fewer errors with each submission, taxpayers and others using past reports need to consider the reported deficiencies in their evaluation and use of the data as well as assess the validity of future reported data for possible issues for future assessments.  Even considering these issues, however, taxpayers and government leaders should consider  consulting the data when investigating or evaluating DOL or other program activities or expenditures for policy, enforcement priority or other purposes.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters. Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies. She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life. In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and 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; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations. Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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.

©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.


April 1 New Deadline To Update Benefit Plan Disability Determination Claims & Appeals Procesures; Hear More on 1/26

January 10, 2018

Employer and sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers of employee benefitplansof any type covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) making any disability based determinations now have until April 1, 2018 to bring their plans’ claims and appeals procedures for disability-based decisions and related notices and communications into compliance with substantially more complicated requirements in new Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) regulations.

The EBSA announced on January 5, 2018 the extension of the effective date of new requirements for benefit plan processing and providing notification about claims or appeals involving disability determinations from their originally scheduled effective date of January 1, 2018 to April 1, 2018.

While the extension gives employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers of employee benefit plans making disability-based benefit determinations a few extra months to review and update their plan documents, summary plan descriptions, procedures, processes and claims and appeals notices to meet tightened new federal rules on disability-based benefit determinations applicable to all post December 31, 2017 claims under the restated Final Rule on Claims Procedure for Plans Providing Disability Benefits (“Disability Claims Rule”), the nature and scope of these new requirements will require updates to virtually all ERISA-covered benefit plans with any disability dependent provisions. These updates are likely to include changes to plan documents, summary plan descriptions, notices, contracts, processes and procedures for a broad range of plans. Consequently, employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and others responsible for any benefit plan not already reviewed and updated to comply should get moving to complete the necessary review and update to meet the April 1, 2018 deadline.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and others will lead a free telephone study group discussion of Claims Regulations and Other Developments Affecting Plan Fiduciaries” on January 26, 2018 beginning at 1 PM (Eastern), Noon (Central), 11 AM (Mountain), and 10 AM (Pacific). For more details about the Study Group, see here.

 

New Disability Claims Rule Overview

Originally published in final form by the EBSA on December 16, 2016, the Disability Claims Rule generally require all ERISA-covered employee benefit plans making any disability benefit or other determination conditioned upon a finding of disability to comply with the new Disability Claims Rule for any claim received after March 31, 2018.

Based on EBSA’s previously adopted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) group health plan claims and appeals rules, the new Final Disability Claims Rule will apply to all disability determinations made under any ERISA-covered plan after March 31, 2018, regardless of how the plan characterizes the benefit or whether the plan is a health or other welfare, pension, 401(k) plan or other savings plan.

The new Disability Claims Rule will apply to a broad range of plans, most of which historically have not followed the detailed claims and appeals notification, independent and impartial decision-making, rescission, deemed exhaustion, “culturally and linguistically appropriate” and other procedural protections and safeguards that the Disability Claims Rule extends from the current group health plan rules to all ERISA-covered plans making benefit determinations based on disability.  Consequently covered plans making disability-based benefit or other covered determinations are likely to require updates to plan documents, insurance or administrative services contracts, summary plan descriptions and other plan communications, claims and appeals notices, and other related processes, procedures and documentation to meet these new requirements. Since certain requirements of the Disability Claims Rules like the summary plan description advance disclosure requirements are required to be provided before the claim is received, plans and their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators risk being accused of violating these requirements by waiting to update plans, their processes and materials until after claim involving a disability based determination arises.

Ensuring that impacted plans are updated before the April 1, 2018 deadline is important because the Disability Claims Rule, like the group health plan claims and appeals rules upon which it is based, also states that noncompliance with any of its requirements empowers a participant to immediately sue the plan for enforcement if his rights without further complying the the plan’s administrative procedures. Moreover, failing to comply with summary plan disclosure or claims or appeal adverse benefit determination notification requirements also may subject the plan administrator to administrative penalties under ERISA section 514(c); fiduciaries to ERISA fiduciary liability, and compromise the ability to defend otherwise defensible decisions. Consequently, employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers will want to act quickly to ensure that their plans, their summary plan descriptions and other communications, notices, processes, contracts and procedures are updated appropriately before April 1, 218.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters. Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies. She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life. In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and 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; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations. Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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.

©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.


$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.

 


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

January 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Employers, Plans, Don’t Jump The Gun On ACA Relief

January 23, 2017

Trump Executive Order Promises But Gives No ACA Health Plan Relief Until Agencies Act

Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, plan members and their family, health care providers and others struggling to cope with the costs and burdens of complying with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care reforms are celebrating the promise of impending relief from ACA mandates held out by newly inagurated President Donald Trump January 20, 2017 Executive Order on “Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” (Executive Order).

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

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

While employer and other health plan sponsors and others struggling to cope with the costs and mandates of ACA unquestionably welcome the promise of relief offered by the Executive Order, it is critical that those looking forward to enjoying this promised relief not jump the gun or overestimate the scope of the relief.  Because the Executive Order is not self-executing, the Executive Order provides no legally enforceable relief from applicable ACA compliance obligations unless and until the applicable Agency or Congress adopts that relief consistent with law.  While applicable Agencies are expected to act as quickly as possible to comply with President Trump’s orders, various statutory and procedural requirements almost certainly will limit both the relief granted and the speed with which the Agencies can grant the relief.

First, because the Executive Order is not self-executing, it doesn’t actually provide any relief for anyone; rather it just creates the expectation that the Agencies will grant some relief in the future. Those anticipating relief should expect that even regulatory relief will take time since the Agencies by law as well as the terms of the Executive Order will be required to comply with the often time consuming and cumbersome requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable statutes in considering and issuing regulatory revisions and relief, including any applicable requirements for submission and approval by the Office of Management and Budget. The often added need for interagency collaboration and negotiation created by the ACA’s grant of multijurisdictional authority over many of its provisions historically has made negotiating these requirements more complicated and time consuming. 

Second, relief will not be available for certain exposures because statutory limits on the jurisdiction and authority of the Agencies under the ACA  will limit the scope of the relief that an Agency can grant.  The Agencies generally do not have the authority to waive certain provisions of the ACA which are not within the discretion of the Agencies, such as the right of participants and beneficiaries in employer or union-sponsored health plan to sue to enforce ACA health plan mandates through a benefits or breach of fiduciary action brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  Likewise, Agencies also will be restricted in their ability to waive penalties or requirements where the statutory mandate is drafted in a manner that denies the Agency discretionary authority to offer that relief.

Third, health plans, their sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should anticipate that they may need to take certain action in response to any issued relief before they can take advantage of the relief allowed such as adopting health plan amendments, issuing notices to participants or beneficiaries, making elections or a combination of these actions.

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

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

Until these and other required actions are completed by the Agencies and the applicable plan sponsors, fiduciaries and other parties, employers and other plan sponsors, their management, their health plans, health plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally obligated to continue to comply with the ACA as presently implemented under the existing regulations and judicial and administrative rulings. While preparing for future changes, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers also should act to manage their prior and existing liabilities arising out of acts or omissions occurring before Congress or the regulators revise and ease the rules.

While health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally responsible to comply with existing rules until changed by the regulators or Congress, they still have much to do to get ready for the changes that are coming while acting to manage their health plan costs and liabilities in the meantime. Whether or not the Trump Administration in the future provides relief from Form 8928 self-reporting and excise tax self- assessment penalties for violation of 40 federal group health plans, group health plans and their fiduciaries almost certainly will remain exposed to ERISA lawsuits for violation of ACA or other federal group health plan mandates. In addition, until revoked or revised, employers and health plans remain subject to and risk liability for failing to provide ACA-required tax forms, notices, benefits, coverage, rights or other compliance.

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.

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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.

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