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

October 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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


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

October 27, 2016

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

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

OHSU Charges & Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SJH Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Away For Other Covered Entities & Business Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


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

July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

Ms. Stamer also is known for her experience in HIPAA and other privacy and data security and breach concerns.  The scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical  staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

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

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For important information concerning this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS. ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

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


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.


Strengthen Your Cyber Security By Sharing National Cyber Security Awareness Month Resources This Week

October 25, 2015

Halloween’s annual celebration of spooks and goblins peak is a perfect time to promote awareness and help American businesses and citizens build their skills to guard against the real and growing menace of identity thieves and other cybercriminals by getting involved with the 12th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) in October, begin preparing to participate in the next annual “Data Privacy Day” on January 28, 2016 and joining in other activities highlighted through NCSAM and Data Privacy Day to help deter Cybercrime and identity theft threats. Even if your organization or family choose not to participate in any official or public way, checking out and using the many free resources provides an invaluable, free opportunity to raise your defenses against this rising risk.

With virtually every American business and citizen now connected to and using the Internet to conduct key personal and business transactions and the constant drive by government and business to digitize regular business transactions, no one agency, business or individual alone can truly know where and who has their sensitive data, much less reliably can defend this data against the identity and other theft and other cybercriminals lurking in the digital world’s virtual streets waiting to strike, then disappear in “Jack The Ripper” style into the darkness of the Internet.  That’s why every American and American business should take time to participate and urge others to Get Involved in the 12th Annual NCSAM activities this month and use the supportive resources offered through that involvement throughout the year.

Celebrated annually in October, NCSAM was created to provide resources to help Americans stay safer and more secure online through public-private collaboration between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and industry led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). NCSAM and its associated activities outreach to consumers, small and medium-sized businesses, corporations, educational institutions and young people across the nation.  NCSAM 2015 particularly focuses on the consumer and his/her needs regarding cybersecurity and safety continuing the overall message of STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Campaign founded in 2010 and its capstone concepts: “Keep a Clean Machine,” “Protect Your Personal Information,” “Connect with Care,” “Be Web Wise” and “Be a Good Online Citizen.” NCSAM seeks to remind Americans to incorporate “STOP. THINK. CONNECT.” into their online routines and offers resources to help individuals understand and put these principles into practice into their online routine at the home, the office and elsewhere.

Designed to be accessible and understandable by consumers, many business and government organizations may want to support and promote their Cyber Security employee and customer training and awareness efforts by participating annually in NCSAM in October, signing up your organization to Data Privacy Day Champion and/or participating in Data Privacy Day on January 28, 2016, or otherwise using and sharing tips, tools and other resources in the Privacy Library such as:

General Privacy & Cyber Security Awareness

Keep a Clean Machine/Cookies & Behavioral Tracking

  • Malware & Botnets
  • A video about cookies and why they matter created by the Wall Street Journal.
  • Information about the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) offering opt-out of online behavior advertising and provides factual information about online behavioral advertising, privacy, cookies.

Health Privacy

Identity Theft Prevention & Clean Up

Mobile App Privacy & Security

Student & Educational Privacy & Security

  • I want to each online safety for Grades K-2,  Grades 3-5  Middle and High School Higher Education and CSave Volunteer Lesson Plans & Materials
  • The Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning toolkit is an in-depth, step-by-step guide to navigating the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and related privacy issues.
  • Securing Your Home Network
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is the main federal law that deals with education privacy, but there are a host of other laws, best practices, and guidelines that are essential to understanding education privacy. FERPA|SHERPA aims to provide service providers, parents, school officials, and policymakers with easy access to those materials to help guide responsible uses of student’s data.
  • General guidance for parents provided by the department of education Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
  • Student Privacy 101: FERPA for parents and students – Ever have questions about your rights regarding education records? This short video highlights the key points of the family education rights and privacy act (FERPA).

Other Resources 

About the Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than years’ experience helping business and government organizations and their leaders manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 28 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management understand and use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk including significant work in the prevention, investigation and remediation of data breach and other Cybercrime events.

Scribe responsible for leading the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,Scribe responsible for leading the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s practice has focused on advising and representing government and private technology, security, health care providers, health plans, health, schools and other educational organizations, insurance, banking and financial services, retail, employer and other organizations about privacy and data security compliance and risk management, breach and other investigations and enforcement, workforce and performance management and other risk management, compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

With data and technology use, protection and management imbedded in virtually every aspect of her client’s operations, data and other confidential information and systems use, protection, breach or other abuse investigation and response, enforcement and liability mitigation and defense and other Cybercrime and Cyber Security challenges are a continuous component of Ms. Stamer’s management work.  Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce, data breach and Cybercrime, and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.  Ms. Stamer regularly helps clients design, administer and defend HIPAA, FACTA, data breach, identity theft and other risk management, compliance and other privacy, data security, confidential information and other data security, technology and management policies and practices affecting their operations.   She also helps clients prevent, investigate and mitigate HIPAA, FACTA, PHI and other data breach hacking, identity theft, data breach, data loss or destruction, theft of trade secrets or other sensitive data, spoofing, industrial espionage, insider and other parties misuse of data or technology and other cybercrime and technology use concerns.  Best-known for her extensive work helping health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities manage both general employment and management concerns and their highly complicated, industry specific corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management requirements, Ms. Stamer’s clients and experience also includes a broad range of other businesses.  Her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.  Common engagements include internal and external privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigation and remediation, workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other legal and operational compliance, risk management, disaster preparedness and response, and liability defense and mitigation concerns arising out of organization’s operations.

Cindy also is widely recognized for her regulatory and public policy advocacy, publications, and public speaking on privacy and other compliance, risk management concerns. Among others, she is the author of “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” the E-Health Business and Transactional Law Chapter on Other Liability-Tort and Regulatory;” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA;” “Personal Identity Management Legal Demands and Technology Solutions;” “Tailoring A Records Management Plan And Process To Meet Your Legal And Operational Needs;” “Brokers & Insurers Identity Theft and Privacy Perils;” “HR’s Role In Personal Identity Theft & Cyber Crime Prevention;” “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions;” “Why Your Business Needs A Cybercrime Prevention and Compliance Program;” “Leveraging Your Enterprise Digital Identity Management Investments and Breaking though the Identity Management Buzz;” “When Your Employee’s Private Life Becomes Your Business;” and hundreds of other works. Her insights on privacy, data security, and other matters have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, and a host of other publications. She speaks and has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

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 works with businesses and government organizations and their management, employee benefit plans, schools, financial institutions, retail, hospitality, and other organizations deal with all aspects of these and other operations performance and compliance management.  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.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.  She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, or the Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC website here.  To contact Ms. Stamer, e-mail her at here or telephone (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


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

July 11, 2015

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

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

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

SEMC Resolution Agreement Overview

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

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

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

SEMC HIPAA Specific Compliance Lessons For Health Plans & Business Associates

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

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

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

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

Broader HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act To Manage HIPAA & Other Related Risks

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

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

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

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

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

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

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

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


Health Plans, Sponsoring Employers & Others Urged To Act Immediately In Response To Premera, Anthem Blue Cross Breaches

March 17, 2015

Today’s report by Premera Blue Cross of a massive data breach affecting as many as 11 million customers’ personal health and financial information on the heels of the large-scale data breach announcement by fellow Blue Cross Association, Anthem, is another reminder that employers and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers specifically, and U.S. businesses generally should immediately assess and tighten up their privacy, data security and data breach compliance and risk management to fulfill applicable legal mandates and to strengthen defenses against resulting liabilities and member backlash likely to arise from these or future breaches.

Notice of the Premera and Anthem breaches are likely to trigger obligations for health plans and their sponsoring employers or unions, administrators, insurers, and other vendors and service providers to take immediate steps to conduct documented investigations, take corrective action and provide breach notifications the  Privacy, Security and Breach Notification rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act require health plans and their business associates to provide in response to notice of a breach. Depending on the scope and nature of data affected and their involvement with the affected plans, employer or other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers also may be subject additional responsibilities under applicable contracts and policies, the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code, and a host of other laws.  Insurance industry or other vendors providing services to these plans also may face specific responsibilities under applicable insurance, health care, federal or state identity theft, privacy or data security, or other federal or state laws.  See, e.g., Restated HIPAA Regulations Require Health Plans To Tighten Privacy Policies And Practices; Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond; HIPAA Compliance & Breach Data Shares Helpful Lessons For Health Plans, Providers and Business Associates.

The need for prompt assessment and action is not necessarily limited to health plans and organizations sponsoring, administering or doing business with the plans involved in the Premera or Anthem breaches.  The occurrence of these breaches arguably raises the questions about the adequacy of the safeguards, practices and policies of other health plans and insurers, their sponsors and fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and other vendors.  places other health plans.  Health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and other vendors generally will want to make prudent documented inquiries about the adequacy of their health plan’s data security and privacy safeguards in anticipation of potential future breaches, audits or other scrutiny.

Beyond the specific health plan related concerns, most businesses also will want to consider the adequacy and defensibility of the data collection, use, disclosure, security and other practices affecting sensitive data within or on behalf of their organization.  The report of these and other health plan breaches, as well recent reports of identity theft and other fraud impacting federal tax returns and other large data breach reports involving retailers and other prominent businesses are spurring recognition of the large risks and need for greater scrutiny and accountability to business collection, use, and protection of sensitive personal and other data.

Of course, as in the case of health plans, the risk is exploding largely in response to the continued evolution of electronic payment and other business operating systems coupled with the emergence of data harvesting and other capabilities.  These new technologies and practices are fueling a host of new mandates, opportunities and risks for virtually every U.S. business.  Cyber criminals seem to always be one step ahead of business and government in leveraging these emerging opportunities for their criminal purposes.

With everyone from the Internal Revenue Service and other federal and state government agencies to private business partners pushing to leverage the efficiencies and other opportunity of electronic transactions and data, businesses in the US and around the world increasing are encouraged if not required to conduct more and more transactions containing sensitive business and individual tax information, personal financial information, personal health information, trade secrets and other confidential business and personal information electronically.  Meanwhile big data and other business and marketing gurus also encourage business to leverage their own opportunities to use data collected for these business mandates and expanding technology also to collect, use and repurpose customer,  prospect or other business information collected in the course of business to benefit their business’ marketing, transactional and other opportunities.

As these practices take hold and expand, data breaches and other cyber crime events, the legal requirements and risks of collection and use of data also are growing.  Privacy, identity theft and other cyber crime and other concerns have led federal and state lawmakers to enact an ever-growing list of notice, consent, disclosure, security and other laws and regulations including but not limited to the Fair & Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA),the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the HIPAA Privacy & Security Rules, state identity theft, data security and data breach and other electronic privacy and security laws and an ever-growing plethora of others.

As the cyber crime epidemic continues to grow and notorious breeches and schemes involving the Internal Revenue Service, Veterans Administration, retail giants like Target, Home Depot, and others, insurance giants like Anthem and Premera and others, government and private enforcement is rising and the judgments, penalties and other costs soaring even as federal and state regulators are looking at the need for expanded rules and penalties.   See Cybercrime Enforcement Statistics; DOJ Enforcement Priorities & Statistics. In addition, widening data privacy and security concerns from these massive data breach reports also are prompting  Congress and State regulatorsto consider the need for added reforms, see, McCaul to Hold Hearing on President’s Cybersecurity.  In deed, even before news of the Premera breach broke, he Federal Trade Commission today announced plans to host a workshop on Nov. 16, 2015, to look at the privacy issues around the tracking of consumers’ activities across their different devices for advertising and marketing purposes.

While these and other legal and enforcement developments promise new liabilities and expenses, the business losses and customer and business partner implications experienced by Target, Anthem and other businesses already affected illustrate the severe business consequences that inevitably result if a business appears to have failed to take customer privacy or other data security concerns seriously.

The now notorious Target hacking data breach event is illustrative. Target reported in late 2013 that credit and debit card thieves stole the name, address, email address and phone number from the credit and debit card records of around 70 million Target shoppers between November 27 and December 15, 2013. After announcing the breach, Target reported a 46% drop in profits in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with the year before despite having announced plans to invest $100 million upgrading their payment terminals to support Chip-and-PIN enabled cards and millions of dollars more in rectification efforts. See The Target Breach, By the Numbers. Subsequently, Target’s losses have continued to mount even as it now faces lawsuits and other enforcement actions as a result of the breach. See Banks’ Lawsuits Against Target for Losses Related to Hacking Can ContinueMeanwhile, the enforcement and other fallout continues to evolve.

While businesses generally need to tighten their defenses and compliance, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and vendors have specific obligations that require immediate, well-documented action when an actual or potential breach happens.  The Privacy, Security and Breach Notification requirements of HIPAA require that health plans adopt specific policies and maintain and administer specific safeguards to prevent and respond to breaches of protected health information.  In the event of a breach, these rules require that the health plan, usually acting through its fiduciaries, and affected service providers that qualify as business associates both investigate and redress the breach, as well as provide specific notification as soon as possible and usually no later than 30 days after the health plan knows or has reason to know of the breach.  Significant civil and even criminal penalties can apply if a health plan, health insurer or its business associate fails to fulfill these obligations.

Beyond the specific requirements of HIPAA, employers and other plan sponsors and others involved in the maintenance and administration of the health plan or the selection and oversight of its vendors often may have other less-realized responsibilities.  As health plan data often includes payroll and other tax data, employers, the health plans and other parties involved also may have specific responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code or other laws.   To the extent that the plan sponsor or another party is named as the plan administrator or otherwise exercises discretion and control over the selection of the insurer or other plan vendor or other plan operations, the fiduciary obligations of ERISA also may require a prudent investigation and other action to meet fiduciary obligations of ERISA.  Brokers, insurers, third party administrators, preferred provider organizations or other managed care providers and others doing business with the health plan also may have specific responsibilities under state insurance, health care, data breach and identity theft or other laws.  Under the provisions of most of these laws, leaving it to the insurer or other vendor involved in the breach generally will not suffice to fulfill applicable legal responsibilities, much less allay the fears of plan members, employees, health care providers and others involved with the health plan.

In the face of these developments, health plans and their sponsors, fiduciaries and others working with them must take immediate action in response to the breaches reported.  Along with these specific health plan related responses,  businesses also should the adequacy and defensibility of their current overall data collection, use and security practices while remaining ever vigilant for new requirements, as well as weaknesses in their own practices.  Health plans specifically and businesses generally need to build their defenses in anticipation of these events both to withstand government and private litigation and enforcement, and to survive the harsh judgment of public opinion.

 For Help With Risk Management, Compliance & Other Management Concerns

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

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights, a faculty and steering committee for the Southern California ISSA-HIMSS Health Care Privacy Program, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel  recognized as a “Top 100” lawyer in labor and employment, employee benefits and health care law, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for her work, publications, public speaking and education and other leadership on privacy and data security and other risk management and compliance.

A management attorney who works with businesses and government to manage and redress people, process and risk, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively on data and other privacy risk management and compliance,  Throughout her career, she has conducted investigations and advised, and assisted health care, insurance, retail and a broad range of other public and private organizations with privacy and data security audit and risk management, contracting, investigation, defense and remediation throughout her more than 25 year career.

Past Chair and of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits,  past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, current Co-Chair of the RPTE Welfare Benefit Committee and Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on cyber crime and other privacy, 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  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 ABA, Insurance Thought Leadership, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

As part of her extensive involvements in privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer will be among the panelists discussing “Fiduciary Obligations In the Context of a Data Breach” conference call to be hosted on April 2, 2015 by Fiduciary Responsibility Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA) Real Property Probate and Estate Section Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group.  During the program, Ms. Stamer and other panelists will discuss the quagmire of fiduciary legal and operational challenges that data breach announcements by health plan vendors and insurers present for employer and union-sponsored health plan fiduciaries and health plans.  She also will serves as the scribe for the upcoming ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with the Federal agency that enforces HIPAA, the Office of Civil Rights, and 2014 Conference Chair and  steering committee and faculty member of the Southern California ISSA/HIMSS Healthcare Privacy & Security Summit scheduled for June 4, 2015 in Los Angeles.

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.  For information about participation in the April 2 Conference Call or joining the Committee, see here.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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