$400K HIPAA Penalty Teaches Risk Assessment Importance

April 12, 2017

Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN), a federally-qualified health center (FQHC), must pay $400,000 and implement a corrective action plan to resolve U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) charges it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule by failing to implement a security management process to safeguard electronic protected health information (ePHI).  The latest in a growing series of high-dollar HIPAA settlements and penalty assessments, it reminds health plans and other HIPAA-covered entities of the importance of conducting risk assessments and  other actions to prevent and prepare to respond to hacking and other data breach and security events.

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan, like most others before it, resulted from an investigation opened in response to a breach report. On January 27, 2012, MCPN filed a breach report with OCR indicating that a hacker accessed employees’ email accounts and obtained 3,200 individuals’ ePHI through a phishing incident. OCR’s investigation revealed that MCPN took necessary corrective action related to the phishing incident. However, the investigation also revealed that MCPN failed to conduct a risk analysis until mid-February 2012 – well after the hacking incident reported in the breach report.Prior to the breach incident, MCPN had not conducted a risk analysis to assess the risks and vulnerabilities in its ePHI environment, and, consequently, had not implemented any corresponding risk management plans to address the risks and vulnerabilities identified in a risk analysis. 

When MCPN finally conducted a risk analysis, OCR found that risk analysis, as well as all subsequent risk analyses, were insufficient to meet the requirements of the Security Rule.

OCR made a point in announcing the Resolution Agreement of noting it considered MCPN’s status as a FQHC when balancing the significance of the violation with MCPN’s ability to maintain sufficient financial standing to ensure the provision of ongoing patient care. MCPN provides primary medical care, dental care, pharmacies, social work, and behavioral health care services throughout the greater Denver, Colorado metropolitan area to approximately 43,000 patients per year, a large majority of whom have incomes at or below the poverty level. It is likely that OCR would have imposed a much greater settlement amount had the covered entity not been a FQHC serving the poor.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.
For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com
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©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer here.

 


Learn Key Lessons From $3.2M+ Children’s HIPAA CMP

February 2, 2017

just-announced $3.2 million Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) paid by Children’s Medical Center of Dallas (Children’s)  for failing to adequately secure electronic protected health information (ePHI) and correct other HIPAA compliance deficiencies teaches many key lessons for employer and other health plans and insurers, healthcare clearinghouses, healthcare providers and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) about mistakes to avoid in managing not only ePHI on laptops and mobile devices, as well as their overall HIPAA compliance and risk management.

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) imposed the $3,217,000.00 Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) under a January 18, 2017 Final Determination based upon findings that Children’s for years knowingly violated HIPAA by failing to encrypt or otherwise properly secure ePHI on laptops and other mobile devices and failing to comply with many other HIPAA requirements.  OCR originally notified Children’s of its intention to impose the CMP based on findings of widespread violations by Children’s of HIPAA in a September 30, 2016 Notice of Proposed Determination (Proposed Determination) that OCR sent to Children’s President of System Clinical Operations, David Berry.  Although the Proposed Determination included instructions for requesting a hearing on the Proposed Determination, Children’s paid the CMP rather than exercising these hearing rights.

Evidence Children’s Ignored Repeated Notices of Violations For Years

According to the Proposed Determination, OCR uncovered widespread HIPAA violations by Children’s while investigating the HIPAA compliance of the Dallas-based pediatric health and hospital system in response to two separate notices of large breaches of ePHI that Children’s filed with OCR in response to the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.   Under the Breach Notification Rule, Covered Entities generally must provide notice of any breach of unsecured ePHI involving more than 500 individuals with OCR, subjects of the breached ePHI and the media within 60 days of receiving notice of the breach.  In contrast, for breaches of unsecured ePHI involving fewer than 500 individuals, Covered Entities generally must notify subjects of the breached ePHI within 60 days, but can delay notification to OCR until filing a consolidated annual report of small breaches of ePHI.

The two breach notifications that triggered the OCR investigation leading to the CMP both involved losses of mobile devices containing ePHI that Children’s filed with OCR.

The first breach report, filed on January 18, 2010, notified OCR of the loss at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on November 19, 2009 of an unencrypted, non-password protected BlackBerry device containing the ePHI of approximately 3,800 individuals.

The second reported breach report filed on July 5, 2013, reported the theft of an unencrypted laptop with the ePHI of 2,462 individuals from its premises sometime between April 4 and April 9, 2013. The OCR investigation found that although Children’s implemented some physical safeguards to the operating room storage area (e.g., badge access was required, and a security camera was present at one of the entrances), it also provided access to the area to staff who were not authorized to access ePHI. Children’s janitorial staff had unrestricted access to the area where the laptop was stored but did not provide encryption to protect the ePHI on the laptop from access by such unauthorized persons.  Children’s internal investigation concluded that the laptop was probably stolen by a member of the janitorial staff.

In the course of investigating these two reported breaches, OCR took note that Children’s previously reported a small breach of unsecured ePHI on an unencrypted mobile device.  In a letter dated August 22, 2011, from Children’s Vice President of Compliance and Internal Audit and Chief Compliance Officer Ron Skillens to OCR Equal Opportunity Specialist Jamie Sorley, Mr. Skillens stated that a Children’s workforce member (an unidentified medical resident) lost an iPod device in December 2010. The iPod had been synched to the resident’s Children’s email account, which resulted in the ePHI of at least 22 individuals being placed on the device. The ePHI on the iPod was not encrypted. The loss of the iPod resulted in the impermissible disclosure of ePHI by the medical resident. OCR concluded the ePHI of 22 individuals was impermissibly disclosed, because the workforce member and agent of Children’s provided access to any unauthorized person who discovered the device.

  • OCR found that the breaches resulted from Children’s violation of the HIPAA Security Rule by failing to encrypt laptops and other mobile devices or and implement other appropriate safeguards for the protection of ePHI on mobile devices;
  • Failing to appropriately document its decision to not implement encryption on mobile devices and any applicable rationale behind a decision to use alternative security measures to encryption; and
  • Failing to implement security measures that were an equivalent alternative to the security protection available from encryption solutions.

The Proposed Determination also reports that the OCR ’s investigation revealed that Children repeatedly over several years knowingly failed to implement and administer proper encryption and other safeguards on laptops and other mobile devices containing ePHI despite actual knowledge of the unaddressed risks to unencrypted ePHI in violation of the HIPAA Security Rule dating back to at least 2007. The Proposed Determination notes, for instance, that:

  • A Security Gap Analysis and Assessment conducted for Children’s December 2006-February 2007 by Strategic Management Systems, Inc. (SMS) (SMS Gap Analysis) identified the absence of risk management as a major finding and recommended that Children’s implement encryption to avoid loss of PHI on stolen or lost laptops.
  • A separate PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis of threats and vulnerabilities to certain ePHI (PwC Analysis) conducted in August, 2008 for Children’s determined that encryption was necessary and appropriate. The PwC Analysis also determined that a mechanism was not in place to protect data on a laptop, workstation, mobile device, or USB thumb drive if the device was lost or stolen and identified the loss of data at rest through unsecured mobile devices as being “high” risk. PwC identified data encryption as a “high priority” item and recommended that Children’s implement data encryption in the fourth quarter of 2008.
  • Furthermore, in September 2012, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued the findings from its audit of Children’s that focused on information technology controls for devices such as smartphones and USB drives. Among other things, the report, entitled “Universal Serial Bus Control Weaknesses Found at Children’s Medical Center,” found that Children’s had insufficient controls to prevent data from being written onto unauthorized and unencrypted USB devices and that “without sufficient USB controls, there was a risk that ePHI could have been written onto an unauthorized/unencrypted USB device and taken out of the hospital, resulting in a data breach.” A copy of this report was provided to Mr. Skillens.
  • Despite the prior breach notifications and warnings from the SMS Gap Analysis, the PwC Analysis and the OIG audit report, Children’s failed to take the necessary steps to encrypt and otherwise safeguard its ePHI on mobile devices.  Children’s still had not implemented encryption on all devices as of April 9, 2013 even though appropriate commercial encryption products were available to achieve encryption of laptops, workstations, mobile devices, and USB thumb drives in use by Children’s staff by, at least, the time of the PwC Analysis in 2008.  Furthermore, while leaving these deficiencies unresolved, the Proposed Determination notes that Children’s issued unencrypted BlackBerry devices to nurses beginning in 2007 and allowed its workforce members to continue using unencrypted laptops and other mobile devices until at least April 9, 2013 despite the findings of SMS and PwC and Children’s actual knowledge about the risk of maintaining unencrypted ePHI on its devices.

Based on this evidence, OCR concluded that Children’s had “actual knowledge” of the unaddressed threats to ePHI as early as March 2007 and at least one year prior to the reported security incidents. Furthermore, OCR also found that Children’s additionally violated HIPAA by failing to implement sufficient policies and procedures governing the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain ePHI into and out of its facility, and the movement of these items within the facility prior to at least November 9, 2012.  Prior to November 2012, Children’s information technology (IT) assets were inventoried and managed separately from the inventory of devices used within its Biomedical Department. Children’s IT asset policies did not apply to devices that accessed or stored ePHI that were managed by the Biomedical Department. Consequently, Children’s was unable to identify all devices to which the device and media control policy should apply prior to completing a full-scope inventory to identify all information systems containing ePHI in November 9, 2012. As Children’s did not conduct a complete inventory to identify all devices to which its IT asset policies apply to ensure that all devices were covered by its device and media control policies, the Proposed Determination concluded Children’s was out of compliance with the Security Rule at 45 C.P.R. § 164.310(d)(l).

After OCR’s investigation indicated widespread Privacy and Security Rule noncompliance by Children’s, the Proposed Determination states that OCR attempted to negotiate a resolution with Children’s through its informal resolution agreement process from approximately November 6, 2015, to August 30, 2016.  When these efforts failed, OCR issued a May 10,2016 Letter of Opportunity that formally informed Children’s that since OCR had been unable to resolve its findings that Children’s violated the Privacy and Security Rules by informal means, OCR was informing Children’s of the preliminary indications of non-compliance and providing Children’s with an opportunity to submit written evidence of mitigating factors under 45 C.F.R. § 160.408 or affirmative defenses under 45 C.F.R. § 160.410 for OCR’s consideration in making a determination of a CMP pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.404. The letter stated that Children’s could also submit written evidence to support a waiver of a CMP for the indicated areas of non-compliance. Each of Children’s indicated acts of noncompliance and the potential CMP for them were described in the letter. The letter was delivered to Children’s and received by Children’s agent on May 12, 2016.

Children’s responded to OCR’s letter on or about June 9, 2016.  The Proposed Determination states that OCR determined that the information and arguments submitted by Children’s in its June 9, 2016 letter did not support an affirmative defense pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.410 or a waiver of the CMP pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.412.  Accordingly, OCR notified Children’s in its September 30, 2016 Proposed Determination of OCR’s intent to implement the $3,217,000.00 CMP and procedures for appealing this planned CMP assessment. When Children’s did not file an appeal, OCR issued the Final Determination assessing the CMP.  OCR reports that Children now has paid the $3,217,000.00 CMP.

Important Lessons For Other Covered Entities

The Children’s CMP and underlying circumstances provide many key lessons for other Covered Entities.  Obviously, the Final Decision drives home the importance of:

  • Proper encryption and other security and access controls of devices and systems containing ePHI; and
  • Proper documentation of risk assessments, audits, breach investigations and other events, compliance analysis and conclusions taken in response, and corrective actions selected and implemented in response to these events.

Beyond the importance of documented compliance with encryption and other requirements, the Children’s CMP and its associated Proposed Determination and Final Determinations also illustrate the importance of proper behavior in response to a known or suspected breach.  The Proposed Determination and Final Determination make clear that beyond the breaches uncovered in the course of the investigation, OCR’s decision to implement the CMP was influenced by, among other things:

  • OCR investigates all large breach reports;
  • Small breach reports can count too;
  • The recurrent disregard and failure by Children to act to address the HIPAA security violations over a period of years despite both repeated notifications of its noncompliance and actual breaches resulting from these compliance deficiencies; and
  • The failure of Children’s to cooperate with OCR to reach a voluntary resolution agreement which might have allowed Children to resolve its liability for the breaches OCR found by paying a potentially smaller settlement payment and implementing corrective actions to OCR’s satisfaction.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition  as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of  “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 28 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps these 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 legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

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, Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer’s includes nearly 30 years’ of work with a diverse range of health industry clients on an extensive range of matters.

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

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on 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 including policy design, drafting, administration and training; business associate and other contracting; risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation; investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected breaches, violations or other incidents; and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.   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 former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy and governmental and regulatory affairs experience, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for regulatory and policy work, advocacy and outreach on healthcare, education, aging, disability, savings and retirement, workforce, ethics, and other policies.  Throughout her adult life and career, Ms. Stamer has provided thought leadership; policy and program design, statutory and regulatory development design and analysis; drafted legislation, proposed regulations and other guidance, position statements and briefs, comments and other critical policy documents; advised, assisted and represented health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, professional. and trade associations, community and government leaders and others on health care, health, pension and retirement, workers’ compensation, Social Security and other benefit, insurance and financial services, tax, workforce, aging and disability, immigration, privacy and data security and a host of other international and domestic federal, state and local public policy and regulatory reforms through her involvement and participation in numerous client engagements, founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment, adviser to the National Physicians Congress for Healthcare Policy, leadership involvement with the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the ABA JCEB, Health Law, RPTE, Tax, Labor, TIPS, International Life Sciences, and other Sections and Committees, SHRM Governmental Affairs Committee and a host of other  involvements and activities.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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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:

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

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


Brace For Health Plan OCR HIPAA Audits

March 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

2016 Audit Program 

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

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

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

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

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

OCR Settlements Show Enforcement Risk

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

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

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

Feinstein Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

North Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Rules Complicate Compliance

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

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

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

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

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

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

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

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

About The Author

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

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.  ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


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:

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


New OCR Guidance Assigns More HIPAA Homework Health Plans, Providers, Business Associates and Employers

March 5, 2014

Think your health plan, health care organization, health care clearinghouse or their business associates has health care privacy covered?  Think again.

A series of supplemental guidance issued by the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in recent weeks is giving health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates even more to do in reviewing and updating their policies, practices and training for handing protected health information (PHI) beyond bringing their policies and practices into line with OCR’s restatement and update to the Modifications to the HIPAA Privacy, Security, Enforcement, and Breach Notification Rules Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act; Other Modifications to the HIPAA Rules; Final Rule (Omnibus Final Rule) OCR published January 25, 2013.

Covered Entities generally have been required to comply with most requirements the Omnibus Final Rule’s restated regulations restating OCR’s regulations implementing the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules to reflect HIPAA amendments enacted by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act since the Omnibus Final Rule took effect on March 26, 2013 and to have updated business associate agreements in place since September 23, 2013.  Meanwhile, the Omnibus Final Rule generally has required business associates have updated business associate agreements in place and otherwise to have come into compliance with all of the applicable requirements of the Omnibus Final Rule since September 23, 2013.  Although these deadlines are long past, many Covered Entities and business associates have yet to complete the policy, process and training updates required to comply with the rule changes implemented in  the Omnibus Final Rule.

Even if a Covered Entity or business associate completed the updates required to comply with the Omnibus Final Rule, however, recent supplemental guidance published by OCR means that most organizations now have even more work to do on HIPAA compliance. This includes the following supplemental guidance on its interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA against Covered Entities and business associates published by OCR since January 1, 2014 alone:

Beyond this 2014 guidance, Covered Entities and their business associates also should look at enforcement actions and data as well as other guidance OCR issued during 2013 after publishing the Omnibus Final Rule such as:

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations higher than ever since the HITECH Act amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, Covered Entities and business associates not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, but also document their commitment and ongoing compliance and risk management activities to help support their ability to show their organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation and take well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage their business associates to do the same.    When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws like the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information, trade secrets or other sensitive data under applicable federal and state laws and judicial precedent.

 For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. The scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for the past several years who has worked on medical and other privacy concerns throughout her career, she regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others, defends covered entities and business associates against OCR, FTC and other privacy and data security investigations, serves as special counsel in litigation arising from these concerns and is the author of several highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other privacy and security concerns.

Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the third year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, 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.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions here including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Limited, non-exclusive right to republished granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


Careful Selection & Contracting With Vendors Critical Part of Health Plan Renewals

October 8, 2013

In the rush to finalize their health plan designs, contracts and documents for the upcoming 2014 plan year, employer and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries should use care to review their insurance, broker, administrator and other health plan vendor agreements and vendor-provided plan documents, communications and processes to verify that vendor agreements and the plan designs, documentation, communications and processes they put in place appropriately hold service providers accountable, are legally compliant, appropriately tailored to defensably administer the plan in accordance with expectations, implement appropriate fiduciary and other performance and risk allocations and manage other exposures.

Many employer and other plan sponsors unknowingly expose themselves and management personnel participating in plan related decision-making to liability and costs by allowing costs or personality preferences to guide their vendor choices, rather than conducting a well-documented prudent review of their brokers and consultants, health plan insurers and  other service providers, their bonding and other credentials, and the vendor-recommended plan designs, documentation, communications, credentials and processes.

Careful Vendor Selection & Contracting Foundation of Health Plan Compliance & Risk Management

As an initial matter, employers or others selecting plan vendors generally need to credential service providers to manage exposures under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The fiduciary responsibility rules of ERISA generally impose upon the employer, member of its management or other parties possessing or exercising discretionary authority or control over the selection of plan service providers or vendors legal responsibility for the prudent selection and oversight of the service providers, their bonding and other credentials. Failing to conduct and keep documentation of this critical review can expose those participating in the vendor selection process to personal liability if plan funds or administration are mishandled as a result of the improper selection and oversight of the vendor.

Second, even when a vendor has a great reputation and credentials, employers or others also should carefully review the plan documentation, agreements, and communications provided by their brokers, administrative services providers, insurers and other health plan service providers to confirm that these materials are legally compliant, properly reflect the plan sponsors’ expectations about the plan terms, costs, and obligations, and otherwise designed to protect the employer’s goals and interests.  While most plan sponsors and their management assume that the arrangements put in place by their broker, consultant or other service provider will take the necessary steps to properly document and implement the plan design, inadequacies in plan documentation, communications, administrative forms, processes and even plan design are common.

Even where plan vendors and advisors have the best of intentions, plan designs and documentation often fail to comply with applicable federal mandates, incorporate undesirable terms, or incorporate other provisions or deficiencies that unnecessarily leave the plan sponsor or members of its management exposed to avoidable fiduciary responsibility and liability for actions that the service provider is being paid to perform, exculpate vendors from liability for failing to competently perform responsibilities, expose the plan or its sponsors to unnecessary penalties or other costs, have other weaknesses that leave the sponsor or its management exposed to significant costs, liabilities or both.

For these reasons and others, employer and other plan sponsors should make time to conduct a well-documented documented review of the fiduciary eligibility, bonding and other credentials, services agreements, plan documentation, communications, processes, and procedures proposed by their health plan vendors before finalizing vendor selections and implementing those documents.

Credentialing & Vendor Contracting Tips

To help determine the scope of review and risk, most employer or other plan sponsors and their management will find it helpful to begin by critically evaluating the credentials and contracts of the health plan brokers, consultants and service providers.  This review should both verify these advisors have the bonding and other legal credentials to qualify to perform the role desired under ERISA, the scope of services and accountability undertaken by the service providers, and the responsibilities for which the employer or other appointing party will continue to bear for the proper documentation and administration of the plan after hiring these vendors.

The following are some basic guidelines that management or others making health plan vendor and design decisions generally will want to consider and document as part of their analysis when reviewing proposed health plan vendors and the plan designs, documentation, communications and procedures.

  • A formal background check performed with the consent of the service provider should prove that the service provider and all of its employees and agents should be qualified to serve in a fiduciary role, are not disqualified or under investigation or other action that would disqualify them to act as a fiduciary or be bonded as required by ERISA, have no material complaint or dispute history with current or former clients or vendors, the Department of Labor, Department of Insurance, Internal Revenue Service or other relevant authorities, and have appropriate licensure, certifications, experience and reputation.
  • The service provider and its employees should enjoy an excellent reputation, verified by both broad background checks and detailed reference checks with both current and former clients, including clients who are not necessarily on the official reference list provided by the prospective service provider.
  • The service provider, its team, processes and procedures should have a history and currently be financially and operationally sound with significant experience and ability in the area.
  • The service provider should possess and be able to provide appropriate documentation of licensure, bonding, certifications and other credentials.
  • Due diligence should verify that the service provider has the skill, equipment, staff, procedures, processes, qualifications and other capabilities to properly and reliably perform the tasks contemplated prudently and in accordance with applicable legal responsibilities.

Beyond credentialing the service provider and its personnel, a plan sponsor or other party participating in the selection of a service provider or its recommended plan designs or services also should critically review the proposed services agreement to verify that it properly protects the expectations and interests of the plan sponsor, its plan fiduciaries and other associated parties participating in the plan design and vendor selection process.  Among other things, a review of the contract generally should verify that the following criteria are met:

  • The contract should clearly document the scope of plan services that the service provider will provide under the agreement, the services that the service provider will not provide, and the services that the service provider only will provide at an additional charge, all charges and other requirements, and any other material expectations.
  • The contract should require the service provider to deliver plan services prudently in a manner that delivers the desired health benefits in a manner consistent with the purposes that justify the plan sponsor’s continued provision of the health benefits in accordance with the legal, operational, benefit and cost parameters applicable to the employer and its plan
  • The contract should provide plan services in a manner consistent with the plan sponsor’s overall plan design and related business practices.
  • The contract should deliver plan services in a manner consistent with the federal and state tax, labor, health care, contractual and other legal obligations applicable to the plan sponsor.
  • The contract should document the bonding, liability insurance, credentials and other qualifications of the service provider and require notification and appropriate recourse in the event of a material change in those credentials.
  • The contract should adequately minimize the exposure of the plan sponsor to legal liabilities arising from its participation in the contract, including fiduciary liability, vicarious liability, corporate negligence, and contractual liability.
  • The contract should establish and document the framework for an effective working relationship.
  • The contract should establish and document clear performance obligations applicable to the parties; the way compliance will be measured; and the consequences of any breach of those obligations.
  • The contract should incorporate the necessary provisions to fulfill the business associate agreement and other requirements concerning the creation, use, protection, access and disclosure of personal health information and other sensitive information about plan participants, beneficiaries and their costs needed to comply with the privacy and data security requirements of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act privacy, security, breach notification, accounting and other individual rights, and business associate rules as updated in new regulations published in 2013 by the Office of Civil Rights.
  • The contract should provide access to necessary information including all records necessary to monitor and defend the plan, its design and administration, its compliance and prudent administration, including all disclosure, audit and reporting requirements.
  • The contract should define the breach notification and dispute resolution procedures, if any, that apply to disputes between the parties in a manner that does not unduly prejudice the plan sponsor’s ability to administer the plan; fulfill its legal obligations to covered persons and relevant regulators, or conduct other business activities.
  • The contract should clearly document the relationship between the standard plan provisions and the managed care procedures as well as fiduciary responsibility and accountability for, appropriately updated to comply with updated claims, appeals, and independent review organization requirements implemented since the enactment of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act,   This should include a discussion regarding the extent to which the plan’s standard utilization, precertification, and medical necessity review procedures, coverage limitations and exclusions, proof of loss, and other provisions or replaced for care obtained under the managed care plan, as well as procedures and liability for deficiencies in administration resulting in liability to contracted physicians under managed care contracts pursuant to state law, loss of discounts, penalties or stop-loss coverage resulting from errors in administration and other federal and state liability risks of the plan, its fiduciaries and the employer.
  • The contract should require a third party administrator (TPA_ ensure that its provider contracts do not contain terms or provisions (other than as intended by the plan sponsor) that would undermine the enforceability of the plan sponsor’s benefit design.
  • The contract should require the service provider to ensure that contracting providers understand that their entitlement to payment or benefits depends upon satisfaction of all applicable terms and conditions of the plan and incorporate procedures to ensure the enforceability of these commitments.
  • The contract should bind the service provider to change its procedures in response to changes in the law or regulations that may be adopted from time to time.
  • The contract, if applicable, should require prudent processes to verify eligibility, coordinate coverage and perform other required functions.
  • The contract should include terms that preserve the subrogation rights of the plan.
  • The contract should require the TPA to warrant its authority to bind contracting providers and other parties whose cooperation and performance is required under the contract as part of the package of services to be delivered under the TPA’s proposal.
  • The contract should require the service provider to warrant that its agreement with other contracting providers does not conflict with the terms of the contract and ensures that these related providers are bound to perform in the manner contemplated by the contract.
  • The contract should require the service provider to perform all duties to prudently and in accordance with the law and hold the service provider legally accountable for liabilities and costs resulting from its omission to do so.
  • The contract should incorporate all performance guarantees including suitable accountability for noncompliance.
  • The contract should keep the right of the plan sponsor or fiduciary to terminate the vendor where prudent or otherwise legally required to fulfill responsibilities without inappropriate restrictions inconsistent with legal or operational responsibilities.
  • The contract should require appropriate indemnification or other accountability for non-performance with legal or other requirements and expectations.
  • The contract should include appropriate provisions to preserve access to plan administration and associated data as necessary to monitor plan costs, make future design decisions, and administer the plan and associated responsibilities even in the event of a termination of the vendor relationship.

While the credentialing questions and processes don’t eliminate all health plan related risks, they can help eliminate and manage many common legal and operational risks that often arising from health contracts and can help position an employer and members of its management to mitigate other potential exposures.   The benefits of this careful credentialing and contract should be carried forward by careful crafting of plan documents and communications to match the allocations of responsibilities decided upon in the contracting process, the use of appropriate procedures to ensure that the appointed party handles those responsibilities and their associated communications, and the proper coordination of responses to potential problems in a manner that provides for defensible administration without blurring carefully crafted fiduciary and other role assignments.

In some instances, it may not be possible to secure the ideal contractual provisions.  When this occurs, the documentation of the negotiations and the analysis of the advisability of proceeding with the contract, including any prudent backup arrangements needed to justify continuation should be maintained.  Too often, brokers and consultants disparage contract negotiation and review recommendations of legal counsel by suggesting this is standard in the industry or that the request for negotiation and review suggests some lack of experience or other improper expectation by legal counsel or others suggesting the review.  Such suggestions should be carefully scrutinized.  While ideal provisions cannot always be obtained, it is rare that some improvement in the agreements is not possible.  Even where this progress is not obtained, however, existing judicial and Labor Department enforcement clearly shows that the process of prudent review and analysis of proposed vendors and services is a required and necessary element of the vendor selection process for which parties making the decisions may face liability if they cannot prove the selection or retention was prudently conducted.

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here .  You also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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