New $2.15M OCR Penalty Shows Health Plans Risks Of HIPAA Violations

October 23, 2019

Health plans and insurers and their service providers should heed as a warning of the potential perils they could face for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security and Breach Notification Rules the just-announced $2.15 million plus civil monetary penalty that Jackson Health System (JHS) paid the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

While the HIPAA-covered entity that paid the $2,154,000 civil monetary penalty, JHS,  is a Florida-based nonprofit academic medical system, rather than a health plan, the $1,500,000 HIPAA resolution payment OCR previously collected from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) in 2012 for its breaches of HIPAA make clear that health plans and insurers risk similar penalties for HIPAA violations.  Consequently, health plans, health insurers and other health care providers and their business associates should construe the JHS civil monetary penalty as evidence of the need to re-verify and remain constantly vigilant about maintaining compliance with HIPAA’s privacy, security and breach notification rules currently and on an ongoing basis.

JHS HIPAA Breaches Found By OCR

The $2.1 million plus payment was required to satisfy a civil monetary penalty assessment OCR imposed in a Notice of Proposed Determination and Notice of Final Determination made public by OCR on October 23, 2019 in response to findings from a series of investigations of HIPAA breach and compliance concerns raised between 2013 and 2016 raised by various HIPAA-mandated breach reports and media reports that raised concerns about improper access disclosure and use of patient PHI between 2013 and 2016.  When JHS did not challenge the findings or determination became final.  OCR reports JHS has paid the specified $2.154,000  civil monetary penalty.

JHS operates six major hospitals, a network of urgent care centers, multiple primary care and specialty care centers, long-term care nursing facilities, and corrections health services clinics, provides health services to approximately 650,000 patients annually, and employs about 12,000 individuals.

On August 22, 2013, JHS submitted a breach report to OCR stating that its Health Information Management Department lost paper records containing the protected health information (PHI) of 756 patients in January 2013. JHS’s internal investigation determined that an additional three boxes of patient records also were lost in December 2012; however, JHS did not report the additional loss or the increased number of individuals affected to 1,436, until June 7, 2016.

In July 2015, OCR initiated an investigation following a media report that disclosed the PHI of a JHS patient. A reporter had shared a photograph of a JHS operating room screen containing the patient’s medical information on social media. JHS subsequently determined that two employees had accessed this patient’s electronic medical record without a job-related purpose.

On February 19, 2016, JHS submitted a breach report to OCR reporting that an employee had been selling patient PHI. The employee had accessed inappropriately over 24,000 patients’ records since 2011.

According to OCR Director Roger Severino, “OCR’s investigation revealed a HIPAA compliance program that had been in disarray for a number of years. …This hospital system’s compliance program failed to detect and stop an employee who stole and sold thousands of patient records; lost patient files without notifying OCR as required by law; and failed to properly secure PHI that was leaked to the media.”

These and other findings led to the OCR determination in the Notice of Proposed Determination and Notice of Final Determination that JHS failed to provide timely and accurate breach notification to the Secretary of HHS, conduct enterprise-wide risk analyses, manage identified risks to a reasonable and appropriate level, regularly review information system activity records, and restrict authorization of its workforce members’ access to patient ePHI to the minimum necessary to accomplish their job duties.  OCR assessed the $2.1 million civil monetary penalty based on these determinations.

The JHS civil monetary penalty is The latest in a growing series of OCR enforcement and regulatory actions that drive home the perils HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans and insurers, healthcare clearinghouses and  business associates risk by failing to responsibly and effectively manage their HIPAA compliance including the one against mega-health plan and business associate, BCBST, that resulted in its payment of a $1,500,000 resolution payment.  For details of the BCBS Resolution Agreement and Settlement payment, see here.

OCR enforcement data documents a steady  rise in OCR investigation and enforcement activity.  OCR set all-time records for HIPAA Enforcement in 2018.  Heavy enforcement activity has continued in 2019.   Before its October 23, 2019 announcement of the JHS civil monetary penalties, OCR already had announced:

Given these and other previously announced enforcement initiatives and actions, all HIPAA covered entities and their business associates are urged to maintain hypervigilance about their own HIPAA compliance with long standing as well as emerging HIPAA requirements taking into account old, recent, and emerging guidance and enforcement activities of OCR.  Of course health plans and other covered entities also need to additionally weigh their exposure under various other state and federal law likely to arise from such breaches and the investigation, mitigation and public and customer trust consequences that almost always accompany and frequently exceed the actual HIPAA liability imposed. Considered together, these and other consequences of HIPAA vioations or other sloppy dealings with protected health inforamtion or ther sensitive health care or financial information make a clear case for investing appropriately in HIPAA and related compliance.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates and join discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Compliance Update Group and registering for updates on our Solutions Law Press Website.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

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’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;   domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.  As part of this work, she has worked extensively on employee benefit communication and other employee benefit plan legislative and regulatory policy, design, compliance and enforcement including testifying to the EBSA Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans in  on the effectiveness of employee benefit plan disclosures during 2017 hearings on on reducing the burdens and increasing the effectiveness of ERISA mandated disclosures.

Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; manage labor-management relations, comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline;  handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel and Past Chair of both the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and it’s RPTE Employee Benefits and Other  Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer also has leading edge experience in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other plan, program and process design, administration, documentation, contracting, risk management, compliance and related process and systems development, policy and operations; training; legislative and regulatory affairs, and other legal and operational concerns.

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, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

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

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  We also invite you to join the discussion of these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Health Plan Compliance Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

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

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

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication or the topic of this article, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


$3 Million OCR Touchstone Settlement Warns Health Plans of Perils of HIPAA Violations

May 6, 2019

Health plans, their sponsoring employers and unions, insurers, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and other service providers should learn from the $3 million lesson a Franklin, Tennessee-based diagnostic medical imaging services provider is learning about the heavy penalties a health plan, health care provider, health care clearinghouse  or business associate  (“Covered Entity”) risks if a post-data breach investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”)  shows  the Covered Entity breached the privacy, data security, business associate agreement and breach notificataion rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security and Breach Notification Rules before or after the breach.

Under a new OCR Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan announced May 6, 2019, Touchstone Medical Imaging (“Touchstone”) must pay $3,000,000 to OCR and adopt a corrective action plan to settle OCR charges it violated HIPAA arising from an OCR investigation of Touchstone’s handling of a 2014 breach.  Around May 9, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and OCR notified Touchstone that one of its FTP servers allowed uncontrolled access to PHI that allowed search engines to index the PHI of more than 300,000 of Touchstone’s patients, which remained visible on the Internet even after the server was taken offline.   While Touchstone initially claimed that no patient PHI was exposed,  in the course of OCR’s investigation, Touchstone subsequently admitted PHI of more than 300,000 patients was exposed including, names, birth dates, social security numbers, and addresses.  As a result of its delayed acknowledgement of the occurrence of the breach on May 9, 2014, Touchstone did not provide notice of the breach until October, 2014, months after OCR and FBI notified it of the breach.   See here.

OCR’s investigation found Touchstone breached HIPAA before and after the breach.  OCR’s investigation  found before the breach, Touchstone failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its electronic PHI (ePHI), and failed to have business associate agreements in place with its vendors, including their IT support vendor and a third-party data center provider as required by HIPAA.   OCR also found Touchstone did not thoroughly investigate the security incident until several months after notice of the breach from both the FBI and OCR.  Consequently, Touchstone’s notification to individuals affected by the breach also was untimely.

To resolve OCR charges arising from these events, Touchstone agreed to pay OCR $3,000,000.  In addition to the monetary settlement, Touchstone will undertake a robust corrective action plan that includes the adoption of business associate agreements, completion of an enterprise-wide risk analysis, and comprehensive policies and procedures to comply with the HIPAA Rules.

The Resolution Agreement illustrates the expensive price Covered Entities risk from failing to conduct risk assessments, obtain business associate agreements and fulfill other HIPAA requirements before a breach, then failing to promptly investigate, provide notification and redress a breach when discovered.  Covered Entities should learn from the painful lesson learned by Touchstone by reconfirming the adequacy of their current HIPAA  compliance and using care to timely and adequately investigate and provide notification if and when a breach occurs.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

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’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompassess advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

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, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association 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. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, 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 and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, 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.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Record $16M Anthem HIPAA Settlement Signals Need to Tighten Your Health Plan HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management

October 16, 2018

Health plans, their employer and other sponsors and fiduciaries, health insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates should study and learn from the just announced, record-setting $16 million resolution agreement between health insurance giant, Anthem, Inc., to resolve Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) charges that Anthem, Inc.’s violations of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules exposed the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of almost 79 million people.  In addition to reviewing the adequacy of their own HIPAA privacy and security practices, health plans, their employer and union sponsors and fiduciaries also should consider assessing the advisability of tightening their business associate and other agreements with health insurers, third party administrative services providers and other vendors in light of the resolution agreement and experiences arising out of the Anthem breach to better position themselves to assess and enforce HIPAA compliance, receive notice and respond in the event of an insurer or other vendor breach and mitigate financial costs and liabilities resulting from breaches or other compliance deficiencies.

Anthem’s Record Setting HIPAA Breach & Resolution Agreement

The settlement agreement announced October 15, 2018 by OCR requires Anthem, Inc. to pay a $16 million resolution payment to OCR and take a series of corrective actions to resolve HIPAA liabilities to OCR for allowing the largest known U.S. health data breach in history in 2015.  The record $16 million resolution payment eclipses the prior record resolution payment of $5.55 million Memorial Healthcare System (MHS) paid OCR to settle HIPAA charges in 2016. Moreover, the $16 million resolution payment it’s just a small portion of the amount that Anthem has been required to shell out as a consequence of the breach. In addition to the $16 million paid under the OCR resolution agreement, anthem already has paid more than $115 million to settle lawsuits arising out of the breach under other laws.

An independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and one of the nation’s largest health benefits companies, Anthem provides medical care coverage to one in eight Americans through its affiliated health plans.  The breach that resulted in the settlement agreement affected ePHI Anthem maintained for its affiliated health plans including many employer or union sponsored self-insured and insured group health plans and other HIPAA-covered entity health plans.

On March 13, 2015, Anthem filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights  that disclosed that Anthem discovered on January 29, 2015 that cyber-attackers had gained access to and engaged in continuous and targeted cyberattack on Anthem’s IT system for the apparent purpose of extracting data, otherwise known as an advanced persistent threat attack.  After filing its breach report, Anthem discovered cyber-attackers had infiltrated their system through spear phishing emails sent to an Anthem subsidiary after at least one employee responded to the malicious email and opened the door to further attacks. OCR’s investigation revealed that between December 2, 2014 and January 27, 2015, the cyber-attackers stole the ePHI of almost 79 million individuals, including names, social security numbers, medical identification numbers, addresses, dates of birth, email addresses, and employment information.

In addition to the impermissible disclosure of ePHI, OCR’s investigation revealed that Anthem failed to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis, had insufficient procedures to regularly review information system activity, failed to identify and respond to suspected or known security incidents, and failed to implement adequate minimum access controls to prevent the cyber-attackers from accessing sensitive ePHI, beginning as early as February 18, 2014.

In addition to the consequences for the millions of individuals whose ePHI was disclosed through the breach, the breach also triggered responsibilities and concerns for fiduciaries and sponsors of the employer and union-sponsored group health plans administered or insured by Anthem.  Sponsors and fiduciaries of private sector employer or union sponsored plans struggled to obtain information and cooperation from Anthem necessary to evaluate and fulfill their health plans’ HIPAA obligations as well as the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In addition to the $16 million settlement that Anthem is paying to resolve OCR’s HIPAA charges stemming from the breach, the OCR settlement agreement also requires Anthem to undertake a robust corrective action plan to comply with the HIPAA Rules.

Health Plans, Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Vendors Should Act To Manage Compliance & Risks

Unquestionably, other health insurers, employer, union and association sponsored group health plans, and their vendors and business associates should evaluate the adequacy and defensibility of their own health plan privacy and security practices in light of the Anthem breach and resolution agreement.  In addition, employer, union or association health plan sponsors, administrative service providers and fiduciaries also should consider the advisability of strengthening their business associate agreements with insurers, third party administrators and other health plan service providers to incorporate safeguards, audit, oversight or other provisions and practices to help prudently monitor potential risks and improve their ability to receive timely notice, respond to, and preserve rights of recourse against insurers or other vendors in the event of a breach or other deficiency.

 

About The Author

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s more than 30 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and a former JCEB Council Representative; former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; and past Chair, former Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, former Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health care, managed care and insurance, and other employee benefit, human resources, and related antitrust, corporate, privacy and data security, tax and other internal controls, regulatory affairs and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 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 health, insurance and financial security, and other 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 legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

In this respect, Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, regulatory compliance and operational and performance 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.

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

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

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

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

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

Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; 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; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (214) 452.8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


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

April 26, 2017

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

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

CardioNet Charges & Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other data security, privacy and breach laws.  Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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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.


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

July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brace For Health Plan OCR HIPAA Audits

March 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

2016 Audit Program 

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

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

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

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

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

OCR Settlements Show Enforcement Risk

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

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

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

Feinstein Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

North Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Rules Complicate Compliance

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

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

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

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

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

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

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


Check Health Plan Privacy For New Guidance Compliance

March 9, 2016

Health plans, health care providers, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) should review and update practices on protecting the security of and providing protected health information (PHI) and record access to patients, plan members and other subjects of that information in response to new guidance and enforcement actions of the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

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.

New Guidance On PHI Records Access Rules & Security Standards

OCR continues to issue new guidance and tools on HIPAA compliance.  Keeping on top of and ensuring privacy and security practices are update for this guidance is an important part of the responsibilities of health plans and other Covered Entities including:

  • New guidance on the protection and safeguarding of the electronic and other PHI in response to the OCR’s new guidance Addressing Gaps in Cybersecurity: OCR Releases Crosswalk Between HIPAA Security Rule and NIST Cybersecurity Framework, of the imposition of its second Civil Monetary Penalty and ever-lengthening list of other data breach and security enforcement actions;
  • New guidance on responsibilities of Covered Entities to provide patient access to protected health information under HIPAA;
  • Guidance contained in announcements and resolutions agreements published about OCR enforcement actions; and
  • Other recent regulatory and enforcement developments.

OCR Cybersecurity & Other Security Guidance & Enforcement

HIPAA’s Privacy, Security and Breach Notification rules require Covered Entities to implement strong data security safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other PHI tthey create, receive, maintain or transmit. To help minimize their potential exposure to Civil Monetary Penalties or other risks associated with breaches of these Rules, Covered Entities generally will want to review and update as necessary their current practices for safeguarding the security of PHI and ePHI in light of the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016 as well as guidance about OCR’s expectations concerning HIPAA Security compliance disclosed in the two HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalties and ever growing list of HIPAA Resolution Agreements published 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.

released a 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 breach or audit.

Latest Guidance Clarifies Patient Rights To Access PHI & Allowable Charges

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 week, 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.

The complete set of materials – the Fact Sheet and both the first and second set of FAQs – published to date as part of this effort to improve access, may be found on OCR’s website here.

Covered entities and their business associates should move quickly to review and update their 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. Get additional information or register here.

 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 to 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.


EEOC Charges Employer Violated ADA By Terminating Employment At FMLA Leave End

March 2, 2015

Employers considering terminating the employment of employees not ready to resume their usual duties when their eligibility for medical leave ends under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or other leave policies should first consider whether the employee qualifies for accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  That’s the message transmitted by a new Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against ValleyLife of Phoenix, Arizona.

In EEOC v. ValleyLife, the EEOC charges that ValleyLife engaged in illegal disability discrimination in violation of the ADA when it allegedly fired employees with disabilities instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations when their eligibility for family leave ended under the FMLA and allegedly failed to keep employees’ medical records confidential.  See EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS (N.Az).

According to the lawsuit, ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy.  The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the FMLA.   In its complaint, for instance, the EEOC alleges that ValleyLife fired supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave was exhausted.  EEOC claims this termination violated the ADA because ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible.  Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination.  The EEOC contends that ValleyLife’s failure to offer extended leave or other accommodation to Stephens when his leave eligibility ended violated the ADA, which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.

The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the medical record confidentiality requirements of the ADA, which requires employees’ to keep medical documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.

The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensa­tory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.

Prepare Employment Discrimination Defenses

The EEOC suit against ValleyLife sends a message to employers of the need to use care to monitor and manage ADA and other disability discrimination risks at the end of a FMLA or other medical leave.  Employers assume at their own peril that their responsibility to an employee ends when an employee is unable to or fails to return to work following a FMLA or other medical leave.  Instead, the employer should evaluate whether the affected employee qualifies as disabled under the ADA and if so, whether the employer has any responsibility to offer the employee an extended leave or other accommodations before terminating the employee.

Employers also should consider reviewing and updating their current FMLA and other leave policies and communications to incorporate appropriate accommodation offer and administration procedures and notices, as well as other processes to ensure that these practices are operationalized in a manner to create and keep appropriate documentation to defend staffing decisions against potential claims of illegal discrimination under the ADA, Civil Rights, or other laws that could trigger ADA or other discrimination charges.  Employers should keep in mind that an evidentiary doctrine known as the “after acquired evidence rule” makes it important to properly document analysis and decision-making before an employment action is taken to help ensure that critical evidence of employer intention necessary to defend discrimination claims will not be excluded or compromised in the event of litigation.

For Advice, Training & Other Resources

Should your business need legal advice about the taxability of or other requirements on tips, gratuities or other compensation,  assistance assessing or resolving potential past or existing compliance exposures, or monitoring and responding 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, an ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Council representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, ABA, and State Bar of 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 plans and insurers about ACA, and a wide range of other plan design, administration, data security and privacy and other compliance risk management policies.  Ms. Stamer also regularly represents clients and works with Congress and state legislatures, EBSA, IRS, EEOC, OCR and other HHS agencies, state insurance and other regulators, and others.   She also publishes and speaks extensively on health and other employee benefit plan and insurance, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, privacy, regulatory and public policy 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.

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 receive these and other updates here.  Recent examples of these updates include:

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 about this communication click here

NOTE:  This article is provided for educational purposes.  It is does not establish any attorney-client relationship nor provide or serve as a substitute for legal advice to any individual or organization.  Readers must engage properly qualified legal counsel to secure legal advice about the rules discussed in light of specific circumstances.

The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations.  The Regulations now require that either we (1) include the following disclaimer in most written Federal tax correspondence or (2) undertake significant due diligence that we have not performed (but can perform on request).

ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, or (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

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

 

Check Out Updated Kaiser Calculator For 2015 Zip Code-Specific Premium and Tax Credit Estimates for Health Marketplace Coverage Coverage

November 13, 2014

The Kaiser Family Foundation has announced that its updated Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator now includes zip code-specific data on 2015 health plans that are being sold through the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance marketplaces during the open enrollment period that begins this Saturday, November 15.

Kaiser says the new tool allows consumers around the nation  to generate estimates of their health insurance premiums and government subsidies for 2015 plans that they purchase on their own through an ACA marketplace. The estimates are based on zip code, household income, family size and ages of family members. The calculator also helps consumers determine whether they could be eligible for Medicaid.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related 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 26 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. 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.

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 26 years experience advising health industry, insurance, technology and other clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, DOL, IRS, SEC, insurance department and other investigation and enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health 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.

For the past four years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

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.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


Ebola Scare & New OCR Privacy Guidance Reminder To Prepare For Pandemic & Other Emergencies

November 11, 2014

The recent US Ebola scare provided an important reminder to health care providers, health insurers and health plans, health care clearinghouses, employers and others of the importance of understanding and preparing to deal with health care privacy and other challenges arising from epidemics and other emergencies.  In response to the recent Ebola and other contagious disease outbreaks and just as U.S. health care and other business leaders are working to prepare for the biggest contagious disease time of the year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is reminding health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates that the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) requiring Covered Entities and their business associates to limit the use, access and disclosure of patient’s protected health information (PHI) continue to apply during emergency situations and help them understand when HIPAA allows them to share PHI in emergency situations in a new notice titled “HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations” (Guidance) published November 10, 2014. A business associate of a covered entity (including a business associate that is a subcontractor) also must continue to comply with HIPAA and may only make disclosures permitted by the Privacy Rule on behalf of a Covered Entity or another business associate to the extent authorized by its business associate agreement and consistent with HIPAA’s requirements.  With annual flu season approaching and the Ebola and other pandemic issues still circling, it’s time for all organizations to prepare to respond to these and other emergencies including the special privacy and other concerns they often raise.

Sharing Patient Information

The Guidance begins by reminding Covered Entities and their business associates that HIPAA’s Privacy Rule continues to apply in emergency situations and requires Covered Entities protect and prohibits their use, access or disclosure of patient’s protected health information except as allowed by HIPAA unless the patient authorizes the Covered Entity to disclose the PHI in accordance with HIPAA’s requirements for authorization set forth in 45 CFR 164.508.

The Guidance then goes on to discuss the following circumstances that the HIPAA Privacy Rule might allow Covered Entities to share PHI without getting patient authorization, subject to the reminder that in many cases, HIPAA will require that the Covered Entity limit the disclosure to the minimum necessary disclosure necessary for the allowable purpose and require other conditions to be fulfilled:

  • Treatment.

Under the Privacy Rule, covered entities may disclose, without a patient’s authorization, protected health information about the patient as necessary to treat the patient or to treat a different patient. Treatment includes the coordination or management of health care and related services by one or more health care providers and others, consultation between providers, and the referral of patients for treatment. See 45 CFR §§ 164.502(a)(1)(ii), 164.506(c), and the definition of “treatment” at 164.501.

  • Public Health Activities.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule recognizes the legitimate need for public health authorities and others responsible for ensuring public health and safety to have access to protected health information that is necessary to carry out their public health mission. Therefore, the Privacy Rule permits covered entities to disclose needed protected health information without individual authorization:

  • To Or At The Direction Of A Public Health Authority.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows Covered Entities to share protected health information with Public Health Authorities authorized by law to collect or receive such information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury or disability like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or a state or local health department. This would include, for example, the reporting of disease or injury; reporting vital events, such as births or deaths; and conducting public health surveillance, investigations, or interventions. A “public health authority” is an agency or authority of the United States government, a State, a territory, a political subdivision of a State or territory, or Indian tribe that is responsible for public health matters as part of its official mandate, as well as a person or entity acting under a grant of authority from, or under a contract with, a public health agency. See 45 CFR §§ 164.501 and 164.512(b)(1)(i). For example, a covered entity may disclose to the CDC protected health information on an ongoing basis as needed to report all prior and prospective cases of patients exposed to or suspected or confirmed to have Ebola virus disease.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule also allows Covered Entities to share information at the direction of a public health authority:

    • To a foreign government agency that is acting in collaboration with the public health authority. See 45 CFR 164.512(b)(1)(i); and
    • To persons at risk of contracting or spreading a disease or condition if other law, such as state law, authorizes the covered entity to notify such persons as necessary to prevent or control the spread of the disease or otherwise to carry out public health interventions or investigations. See 45 CFR 164.512(b)(1)(iv)
  • Disclosures to Family, Friends, and Others Involved in an Individual’s Care and for Notification.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows a Covered Entity to share protected health information:

    • With a patient’s family members, relatives, friends, or other persons identified by the patient as involved in the patient’s care;
    • About a patient as necessary to identify, locate, and notify family members, guardians, or anyone else responsible for the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death including where necessary to notify family members and others, the police, the press, or the public at large. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).

The Guidance reminds Covered Entities, however, that the Privacy Rule requires the Covered Entity to get verbal permission from individuals or otherwise be able to reasonably infer that the patient does not object, when possible. If the individual is incapacitated or not available, the Guidance states Covered Entities may share information for these purposes if, in their professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest.

The Guidance also confirms that Covered Entities may share protected health information with disaster relief organizations authorized by law or by their charters to assist in disaster relief efforts like the American Red Cross for the purpose of coordinating the notification of family members or other persons involved in the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death. It is unnecessary to obtain a patient’s permission to share the information in this situation if doing so would interfere with the organization’s ability to respond to the emergency.

  • Imminent Danger

The Guidance also states that Covered Entities that are health care providers may share patient information with anyone as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public – consistent with applicable law (such as state statutes, regulations, or case law) and the provider’s standards of ethical conduct. See 45 CFR 164.512(j).

  • Disclosures to the Media & Others Not Involved in the Care of the Patient/Notification

The Guidance also reminds Covered Entities of the importance of closely adhering to HIPAA’s rules when responding to information requests from the medial or others not involved in the care of a patient. The Guidance states that when the media or other other party not involved un the patient’s care asks the Covered Entity for information about a particular patient by name, a hospital or other health care facility may release limited facility directory information to acknowledge an individual is a patient at the facility and provide basic information about the patient’s condition in general terms (e.g., critical or stable, deceased, or treated and released) if the patient has not objected to or restricted the release of such information or, if the patient is incapacitated, if the disclosure is believed to be in the best interest of the patient and is consistent with any prior expressed preferences of the patient. See 45 CFR 164.510(a). In general, except in the limited circumstances authorized in the HIPAA Privacy Rule, affirmative reporting to the media or the public at large about an identifiable patient, or the disclosure to the public or media of specific information about treatment of an identifiable patient, such as specific tests, test results or details of a patient’s illness, may not be done without the patient’s written authorization (or the written authorization of a personal representative who is a person legally authorized to make health care decisions for the patient).

  • Minimum Necessary Restriction Requirement

The Guidance cautions Covered Entities and their business associates that for most disclosures, a Covered Entity generally must make reasonable efforts to limit the information disclosed to that which is the “minimum necessary” to accomplish the purpose. However, this minimum necessary requirement does not apply to disclosures to health care providers for treatment purposes.

Covered Entities may rely on representations from a public health authority or other public official that the requested information is the minimum necessary when making disclosures in response to request from those parties. For example, a covered entity may rely on representations from the CDC that the protected health information requested by the CDC about all patients exposed to or suspected or confirmed to have Ebola virus disease is the minimum necessary for the public health purpose.

  • Required Internal Restrictions On Use, Access & Disclosure

Internally, covered entities should continue to apply their role-based access policies to limit access to protected health information to only those workforce members who need it to carry out their duties. See 45 CFR §§ 164.502(b), 164.514(d).

Safeguarding Patient Information

Beyond limiting the use, access and disclosure of PHI, the Guidance also reminds Covered Entities and their business associates that even in emergency situations, HIPAA continues to require them to implement reasonable safeguards to protect patient information against intentional or unintentional impermissible uses and disclosures as well as to apply the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule to electronic PHI.

Limited Waiver

Although HHS has yet to take steps to trigger a limited waiver, the Guidance also reminds Covered Entities and their business associates that HHS has the power to do so, the effect of a limited waiver and the circumstances under which HHS could elect to apply  a limited waiver to waive sanctions against a hospital for certain specific types of HIPAA violations while the waiver is in effect.

As the Guidance notes, the HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended during a public health or other emergency.  Rather, the limited waiver rules only operates to permit the Secretary of HHS to waive certain provisions of the Privacy Rule under the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 (PL 108-276) and section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Act. The limited waiver only applies when the President declares an emergency or disaster and HHS declares a public health emergency. When and if these requirements are met, HHS may waive sanctions and penalties against a Covered Entity that is a hospital for failing to comply with the following HIPAA Privacy Rule provisions:

  • The requirements to obtain a patient’s agreement to speak with family members or friends involved in the patient’s care. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).
  • The requirement to honor a request to opt out of the facility directory. See 45 CFR 164.510(a).
  • The requirement to distribute a notice of privacy practices. See 45 CFR 164.520.
  • The patient’s right to request privacy restrictions. See 45 CFR 164.522(a).
  • The patient’s right to request confidential communications. See 45 CFR 164.522(b).

If the Secretary issues such a waiver, Covered Entities and their business associates should keep in mind the waiver only applies to the list violations and only applies:

  • For so long as the waiver remains in effect;
  • In the emergency area and for the emergency period identified in the public health emergency declaration
  • To hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and
  • For up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol.

When the Presidential or Secretarial declaration terminates, a hospital must then comply with all the requirements of the Privacy Rule for any patient still under its care, even if 72 hours has not elapsed since implementation of its disaster protocol.

Not Necessarily Just About HIPAA

HIPAA is not necessarily the only law that Covered Entities, business associates or others need to consider when deciding what to disclose during an emergency or otherwise.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to disclosures made by and Covered Entities, business associates employees, volunteers, and other members of a Covered Entity’s or Business Associate’s workforce. The Privacy Rule does not apply to disclosures made by entities or other persons who are not Covered Entities.

Beyond HIPAA, Covered Entities, their business associates or members of their workforce, employers, and other organizations also need to consider whether other federal or state laws, ethical rules, contracts or policies may restrict use or disclosure, safeguard, or take other steps to protect PHI or other information.  For instance, other federal laws, state law, professional ethical rules, contracts, facility policies or procedures, or other restrictions often apply to health care provides, insurers, brokers, employers or others.  Employers, health care organizations, insurers and others also need to be concerned about potential discrimination, common law and statutory privacy, retaliation, defamation and other exposures.

Prepare For Compliance Now

The recent experiences of various health care organizations intimately involved in caring for the Ebola patients highlights the importance of anticipating, preparing and conducting training, and having your workforce practice to prepare  to deal with the special challenges of dealing with HIPAA and other legal responsibilities in advance of emergency events.  When preparing for these events, Covered Entities and business associates need to take into account the need to comply operationally as well as to document and retain records of compliance.   They should  both should anticipate and prepare to respond to both typical inquiries as well as those from the media, public and others.   They also should consider how various types of emergencies could create new privacy or security risks.  For instance, in certain emergency situations, recordkeeping or other systems could be disrupted, impacting the ability retain and subsequently produce required documentation.  Furthermore, Covered Entities also should prepare to manage the patient and public relations aspects of these events including adverse impressions that often arise when the media or others are disappointed at being denied information because of compliance obligations, from breaches or perceived breaches, or other similar events.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related 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 26 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. 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.

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 26 years experience advising health industry, insurance, technology and other clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, DOL, IRS, SEC, insurance department and other investigation and enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health 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.

For the past four years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

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.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All 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.


Dermatology Practice To Pay $150K To Settle Charges It Breached HIPAA Breach Notice Rule

December 26, 2013

A new settlement agreement announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) shows health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates the perils of failing to properly implement the necessary policies and procedures to comply with the breach notification requirements added to the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) added by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Private dermatology practice,, Adult & Pediatric Dermatology, P.C., (APDerm) has agreed to pay $150,000 and implement a corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy,  Security, and Breach Notification Rules.  The APDerm Setttlement  marks the first settlement with a covered entity for not having policies and procedures in place to address the breach notification provisions of the HITECH Act.

According to its December 26, 2013 announcement of the settlement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation of APDerm upon receiving a report that an unencrypted thumb drive containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 2,200 individuals was stolen from a vehicle of one its staff members. The thumb drive was never recovered.  The investigation revealed that APDerm had not conducted an accurate and thorough analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality of ePHI as part of its security management process.  Further, APDerm did not fully comply with requirements of the Breach Notification Rule to have in place written policies and procedures and train workforce members.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The APDerm settlement provides more evidence of the growing exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On WebsiteIt joins the  growing list of settlement or resolution agreements under HIPAA announced by OCR.

The APDerm also is notable both as it settles the first ever charges against a covered entity for failing to adopt required Breach Notification policies and procedures and the relatively most settlement payment required in comparison to other announced settlement.  Other settlements have been significantly higher.  For instance,  OCR required that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay $1.5 million to resolve HIPAA violations charges.

In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s audit,  investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data, their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, evolving rules and technology, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable. For tips, see here.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related 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 24 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. 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.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


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

September 16, 2013

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

Model HIPAA Notices

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

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

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

September 23 Business Associate Agreement Update Deadline

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

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


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


IRS Publishes Final Health Reform Individual Shared Responsibility Rules

September 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

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


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


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

August 21, 2013

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

ACA Exchange Notices Due By October 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timing and Delivery of Notice

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

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

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

Required Content of Exchange Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOL Model Exchange Notices Not Panacea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Forget To Notify COBRA Qualified Beneficiaries

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

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

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

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

ACA SBC Mandate Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAQ Part XIV Requires MEC and Minimum Value Disclosures In SBC

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

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

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

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

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

60-Day Advance Notice of Material Changes Requirement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

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


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


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

August 15, 2013

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

HIPAA Updates Require Breach Notification, Tightened Other HIPAA Requirements

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

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

Affinity Settlement Highlights

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

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

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

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

Learn From Affinity Lesson On Proper Disposal Procedures

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

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

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

HIPAA Regulation Updates Require Other Updates Beyond Disposal Procedures

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

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


HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce

June 14, 2013

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

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

Talking Out Of Turn To Media & Others Violated HIPAA

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

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

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

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

SRMC Must Correct & Pay $$275K Penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2013 Regulations Overview

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

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

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

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

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

Liability & Enforcement Risks Heighten Need To Act To Review & Update Policies & Practices

The new Resolution Agreement and the growing list of others like it, as well as restated rules in the 2013 Regulations make it imperative that Covered Entities review the revised rules carefully and updated their policies, practices, business associate agreements, training and documentation to comply with the updated requirements and other enforcement and liability risks.  OCR even prior to the regulations has aggressively investigated and enforced the HIPAA requirements.

OCR increasingly is imposing  sanctions against a covered entity for data breaches to show the potential risks of HIPAA violations are significant and growing.  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other Safeguards.

In response to the 2013 Regulations and these expanding exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The SRMC Resolution Agreement again shows the growing risk of enforcement that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates face as OCR continues its audits and enforcement, new Omnibus HIPAA Regulations implementing the HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA and state and federal liability grows..  See e.g., $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

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

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

For more information about HIPAA compliance and risk management tips, see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

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

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


$1.5 M HIPAA Security Breach Resolution Agreement Shows Looming HIPAA Risks

September 17, 2012

Health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates have yet another $1 million plus reminder of the importance of taking proper steps to secure electronic protected health information and take other steps required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, Inc. (collectively referred to as “MEEI”) will pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) $1.5 million and take a series of corrective actions to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule under the resolution agreement available here (“Resolution Agreement”) announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on September 17, 2012. 

MEEI Resolution Agreement

The Resolution Agreement settles charges that resulted from an OCR investigation commenced in response to a HIPAA breach report submitted by MEEI reporting the theft of an unencrypted personal laptop containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of MEEI patients and research subjects.  The laptop information included patient prescriptions and clinical information. 

OCR’s investigation indicated that MEEI failed to take necessary steps to comply with certain requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule, such as conducting a thorough analysis of the risk to the confidentiality of ePHI maintained on portable devices, implementing security measures sufficient to ensure the confidentiality of ePHI that MEEI created, maintained, and transmitted using portable devices, adopting and implementing policies and procedures to restrict access to ePHI to authorized users of portable devices , and adopting and implementing policies and procedures to address security incident identification, reporting, and response.  OCR’s investigation indicated that these failures continued over an extended period of time, demonstrating a long-term organizational disregard for the requirements of the Security Rule.

To settle the charges, MEEI will pay a $1.5 million settlement to OCR.  In addition, the Resolution Agreement also requires MEEI to adhere to a corrective action plan which includes reviewing, revising and maintaining policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Security Rule, and retaining an independent monitor who will conduct assessments of MEEI’s compliance with the corrective action plan and render semi-annual reports to HHS for a 3-year period.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The MEEI Resolution Agreement follows on the resolution agreements previously announced this year against a health plan and various health care providers, all but one of which resulted in a settlement agreement of more than $1 million.

For instance, earlier this year, OCR required that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay $1.5 million to resolve HIPAA violations charges.

Like the PCS, BCBST and other announced resolution agreements, the MEEI Resolution Agreement provides more evidence of the growing exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s audit,  investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data, their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, evolving rules and technology, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable. For tips, see here.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related 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 24 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. 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.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

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.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach

June 26, 2012

The Alaska State Medicaid Agency, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) will pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) $1,700,000 to settle possible violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule.  Alaska DHSS also has agreed to take corrective action to properly safeguard the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of their Medicaid beneficiaries. 

The first HIPAA Resolution Agreement that the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached a state agency, the Resolution Agreement  second announced Resolution Agreement stemming from a unsecured protected health information breach report filed in response to the breach notification rules of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.  Earlier this year, OCR announced its first Resolution Agreement involving a health plan resulted from a breach notification report it had filed under the HITECH Act.  See $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report.

OCR opened the investigation leading to the Resolution Agreement after Alaska DHSS filed a breach report that indicated that a portable electronic storage device (USB hard drive) possibly containing ePHI was stolen from the vehicle of a DHSS employee.  Over the course of the investigation, OCR found evidence that DHSS did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to safeguard ePHI.  Further, the evidence indicated that DHSS had not completed a risk analysis, implemented sufficient risk management measures, completed security training for its workforce members, implemented device and media controls, or addressed device and media encryption as required by the HIPAA Security Rule.  Inadequacies by covered entities in safeguarding protected health information and laptops and other devices containing ePHI is a common compliance concern according to OCR statistics.

In addition to the $1,700,000 settlement, the agreement includes a corrective action plan that requires Alaska DHSS to review, revise, and maintain policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule.  A monitor will report back to OCR regularly on the state’s ongoing compliance efforts. 

OCR’s announcement highlights the need for covered entities not only to take proper steps to establish and administer appropriate policies and safeguards to protect protected health information and EHI, but also to prepare, update as needed and be prepared to produce documentation showing their oganizations actions to evaluate, monitor and maintain appropriate safeguards of ePHI and the operating systems and devices that contain this information. 

“Covered entities must perform a full and comprehensive risk assessment and have in place meaningful access controls to safeguard hardware and portable devices,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “This is OCR’s first HIPAA enforcement action against a state agency and we expect organizations to comply with their obligations under these rules regardless of whether they are private or public entities.”

The HHS Resolution Agreement can be viewed here.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The Alaska Medicaid Resolution Agreement is the latest in a growing list of Resolutions Agreements highlighting the mounting exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghousesand their business associates face if required to file a large breach notification or otherwise charged with failing to appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See Arizona Physician Group Pays $100K To Settle HIPAA Charges; $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website.   As OCR leaders have indicated that OCR investigates all large breach notification filings made under the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rules and with more than 450 large breach notifications reported on its website, additional Resolution Agreements are expected in coming months even as covered entities and their business associates are awaiting the impending  issuance of updated HIPAA regulations.

In light of these and other developments and risks, covered entities and their business associates should move to audit and strengthen their HIPAA compliance and documentaiton and adopt  other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures. 

In the face of rising enforcement and fines, OCR’s initiation of HIPAA audits and other recent developments, covered entities and their business associates should tighten privacy policies, breach and other monitoring, training and other practices to reduce potential HIPAA exposures in light of recently tightened requirements and new enforcement risks. 

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

For more information about the PCS Resolution Agreement and HIPAA compliance and risk management tips, see here.

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

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related 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 24 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. 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.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

If you need help investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance, litigation or enforcement or other risk management concern, assistance with reviewing, updating, administering or defending a current or proposed employment, employee benefit, compensation or other management practice, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.

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. If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


Latest $100,000 HIPAA Resolution Agreement Nails Physician Group,

April 17, 2012

The $100,000 settlement with an Arizona-based physician group announced today by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) demonstrates the need for all health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates to maintain appropriate HIPAA compliance and risk management procedures and documentation.

Arizona-based Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. (PCS) will pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) a $100,000 settlement and take corrective action to implement policies and procedures to safeguard the protected health information of its patients to settle OCR charges PCS violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules. Health care providers and other HIPAA-covered entities should heed the PSC and other recent settlements as the latest signal of the risks that health care providers and other covered entities run by failing to adequately implement and administer appropriate HIPAA compliance practices.

The PCS settlement follows an extensive OCR investigation of a report that PCS posted clinical and surgical appointments for its patients on a publically accessible Internet-based calendar. Among other things, the Resolution Agreement documenting the PCS settlement states that OCR’s investigation found that the persistent failure by PCS to adopt HIPAA required policies and safeguards, maintain required business associate agreements, and conduct necessary workforce training resulted in the prohibited posting of more than 1,000 separate entries of ePHI on a publicly accessible, Internet-based calendar and business associates improperly receiving and maintaining PHI and ePHI without the protection of required business associate agreements.

Under the PCS HHS Resolution Agreement available here, PCS will pay a $100,000 settlement amount and a corrective action plan that includes a review of recently developed policies and other actions taken to come into full compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules. Like the $1,500,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) Resolution Agreement announced last month, the PCS shows OCR’s readiness to sanction health care providers and other covered entities of all sizes for violations of HIPAA.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

Like the BCBST Resolution Agreement and other previously announced OCR Resolution Agreements, the PCS provides more evidence of the growing exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website. Covered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.

In the face of rising enforcement and fines, OCR’s initiation of HIPAA audits and other recent developments, covered entities and their business associates should tighten privacy policies, breach and other monitoring, training and other practices to reduce potential HIPAA exposures in light of recently tightened requirements and new enforcement risks.

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

For more information about the PCS Resolution Agreement and HIPAA compliance and risk management tips, see here.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

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

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 24 years experience advising 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. 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.

Scheduled to serve as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights 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 second 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.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

DC Court Enjoins Implementation of NLRB Poster Rule

Orthofix Medical Device Exec Awaits Sentencing After Pleading Guilty To Violating Anti-Kickback Law

Health Care Providers Also Should Guard Against Rising Exposures To State Health Care Fraud & Other Enforcement Risks

Director of Texas Office of e-Health Coodination To Discuss Texas HIE Strategy in 3/14 HHS Sponsored Teleconference

Halfway House Owner Gets 24 Months Imprisonment For Health Care Fraud & Kickback Conviction

Health Plans Should Act Quickly To Prepare Affordable Care Act Required Summary of Benefits & Communications & Update Other Health Plan Communications

NLRB Report Shows Rise In Unfair Labor Practice Complaints & Formal Proceedings

Sullivan University System to Pay $483,000 in Back Wages Overtime Violations Stemming From Worker Misclassifications

New DOL Final Rules Tighten Requirements For Employers To Hire Alien Workers Using H-2B Visas

OSHA $1Million Award Against AirTran Airways Highlights Retaliation Risks

HHS Chides Trustmark Life Insurance Company For “Excessive” Health Premium Increases After Affordable Care Act Rate Audit

Labor Department Final Rule Defines Recreation Vehicle For Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Portion of Health Care Costs Paid By Government Programs Rose As Employer Provided & Other Private Health Care Coverage Declined In 2010

Help Careflite Celebrate New Facility 1/11

Careflite Dedicates New Facility January 11, 2012

Manufacturer’s Excessive I-9 Documentation Triggers Discrimination Liability

If you need help investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance, litigation or enforcement or other risk management concern, assistance with reviewing, updating, administering or defending a current or proposed employment, employee benefit, compensation or other management practice, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


OCR 1st HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Compliance Audits Begin

November 9, 2011

The kickoff of a new compliance audit pilot program provides another reason for health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates to get serious about compliance with the privacy, security and data breach requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). 

OCR Pilot Audit Program Begins

On November 8, 2011, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced that it will begin auditing HIPAA compliance this month under a new pilot program.

As amended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in Section 13411 of the HITECH Act, requires HHS to provide for periodic audits to make sure covered entities and business associates are complying with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and Breach Notification standards.  To carry out this mandate, OCR is piloting a program to perform up to 150 audits of covered entities to assess privacy and security compliance between November 2011 and December 2012.

The commencement of OCR HIPAA compliance audits is yet another sign that covered entities and their business associates should get serious about HIPAA compliance. The audit program serves as a new part of OCR’s health information privacy and security compliance program.  While OCR says that it presently views the pilot audits as primarily a compliance improvement tool, this does not mean violators should expect a free walk.

Even before the impending audits, HIPAA Privacy exposures of covered entities for failing to comply with HIPAA already had risen significantly.  Earlier this year, OCR imposed a $4.3 Million Civil Money Penalty (CMP) against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County (Cignet) for violating HIPAA.  Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has secured several criminal convictions or pleas under HIPAA’s criminal provisions. Under amendments made by the HITECH Act, state attorneys general also now are empowered to bring civil lawsuits against covered entities and business associates that commit HIPAA violations that injure citizens in their state under certain circumstances. Eventually, individuals injured by HIPAA violations also will get the right to share in a portion of certain HIPAA recoveries.

These and other audit and enforcement activities send a strong message that covered entities and their business associates need to get serious about HIPAA compliance. As stated by OCR Director Georgina Verdugo when announcing the Mass General Resolution Agreement, “To avoid enforcement penalties, covered entities must ensure they are always in compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules,” Verdugo added, “A robust compliance program includes employee training, vigilant implementation of policies and procedures, regular internal audits, and a prompt action plan to respond to incidents.” Learn more here.

For Help With Monitoring Developments, Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance monitoring federal health reform, policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, can help.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, a member of the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, 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 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.  Ms. Stamer also regularly helps clients deal with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights 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.  Her insights on the required “culture of compliance” with HIPAA are frequently included in medical privacy related publications of the Atlantic Information Service, Modern Health Care, HealthLeaders and many others. 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, employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here or may contact her at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other selected publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 


OCR’s McAndrew Speaks At 5/16 JCEB HIPAA Teleconference; OCR/NIST To Share Other HIPAA Training On Line

May 10, 2011

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) are making presentations from the 4th annual conference on “Safeguarding Health Information: Building Assurance through HIPAA Security” co-hosted in Washington, D.C. on May 10 & 11, 2011 available on line for review.  The training is part of a series of continuing efforts by the agencies to outreach to various parties on the Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996, as amended (HIPAA).  Meanwhile, OCR’s Susan McAndrew is scheduled to share insights on OCR’s HIPAA regulatory and enforcement agenda at a teleconference to be hosted by the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits at Noon Central on May 16, 2011. 

 The Security Rule sets federal standards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information by requiring HIPAA covered entities and their business associates to implement and maintain administrative, physical and technical safeguards. Presentations cover a variety of current topics including updates on HHS health information privacy and security initiatives, OCR’s enforcement of health information privacy and security activities, integrating security safeguards into health IT and security automation, insider threat trends and safeguards, and more.

The conference is designed to explore the current health information technology security landscape and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule, the agencies share their practical strategies, tips and techniques for implementing the HIPAA Security Rule. 

For details about reviewing the May 10-11 presentations, see the 2011 HIPAA Conference website here.  For details about the May 16 teleconference, see here.

For Help With Monitoring Developments, Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance monitoring federal health reform, policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, can help.  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 23 years experience advising 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. 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.   

Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights 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, On May 3, 2011, Ms. Stamer served as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR and will moderate a teleconference featuring comments by OCR’s Susan McAndrew for the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits scheduled for May 16.  Her insights on the required “culture of compliance” with HIPAA also recently were quoted in medical privacy related publications of the Atlantic Information Service.  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, employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Health Plans & Employers Beware! $4.3 Million Civil Penalty Shows OCR Serious About HIPAA Enforcement

February 23, 2011

 

A $4.3 million civil monetary penalty (CMP) imposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, Md., (Cignet) signals the growing need for health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates covered by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule to get serious about HIPAA compliance. 

The first CMP ever assessed by OCR under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, the Cignet CMP assessment announced February 22, 2011, the $4.3 million CMP against Cignet announced February 22, 2011 applies the expanded HIPAA violation categories and increased HIPAA civil monetary penalty amounts authorized as part of the expansion of HIPAA obligations and penalties enacted as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009.

The Cignet penalty announcement is the latest in a series of developments documenting the rising risks that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (“covered entities”) face for violations of HIPAA. 

Even before the announcement of the Cignet CMP, the HIPAA Privacy exposures of covered entities for failing to comply with HIPAA already had risen significantly. While OCR had not assessed any civil monetary penalties against any covered entity for violation of HIPAA before Cignet, OCR’s collection of $1 Million from Rite Aid in a 2010 Resolution Agreement, $2.25 million from CVS Pharmacy, Inc. under a 2009 Resolution Agreement and $100,000 from Providence Health & Services under a 2008 Resolution Agreement demonstrated that covered entities could face significant civil liability for willful violations of the Privacy Rules.  In addition, the Department of Justice has secured several criminal convictions or pleas under HIPAA’s criminal provisions. OCR data confirms that the covered entities involved in these actions included health care providers, health plans, and others.  

Health plans and other covered entities as well as their business associates should tighten privacy policies, breach and other monitoring, training and other practices to mitigate against exposures in light of recently tightened requirements and new enforcement risks.  To minimize the potential that the health plan’s sharing of information with the employer will create or spread HIPAA or other privacy risks to the employer or members of its workforce, employers and other plan sponsors and members of their workforce also should take steps to ensure not only that their health plan documents, policies and procedures, as well as those policies and practices applicable to employer, its human resources, and benefits advisors when accessing or handling health plan or other medical information on behalf of the employer, rather than the plan, are appropriately designed and administered.

Read more details and get tips here.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your HIPAA or other health plan, or other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, privacy and data security, or other internal controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Ms. Stamer, a noted Texas-based employee benefits and employment lawyer Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, will discuss HIPAA and other privacy risks and risk management strategies for employers, health and employee benefit plan sponsors and their administrators at the Southwest Benefits Association/IRS Plan Administrator Skills Workshops to be held February 25 in Dallas and March 4 in Houston. 

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on privacy and data security and other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  Her many highly regarded publications on privacy and data security concerns include “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective.” ERISA Litigation Manual. BNA, 2003-2009; “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell.” BNA Tax Management and Compliance Journal. February 4, 2005; “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security beyond HIPAA.” ABA Health eSource. May, 2005 and many others.  She also regularly conducts training on HIPAA and other privacy and data security compliance and other risk management matters for a broad range of organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Healthcare Organizations (ASTHO), the Los Angeles County Health Department, a multitude of health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, the American Bar Association, SHRM, the Society for Professional Benefits Administrators and many others.t Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Rising Enforcement and Changing Rules Require Prompt Review & Update of Health Plan Privacy & Data Security Policies & Procedures

December 25, 2009

Health plans and their business associates should review and update their practices and policies concerning the use access and disclosure of protected health information in response to changing requirements and expanding enforcement exposures under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.

A series of Office of Civil Rights (OCR) enforcement action against health plans highlights the need for group health plans and insurers to exercise care to comply with HIPAA’s Privacy & Security Rules.  For example, OCR recently required a HMO to take a series of corrective actions based on findings from its investigation of a complaint that the HMO impermissibly disclosed a member’s protected health information by sending her entire medical record to a disability insurance company without her authorization.  Based on its investigation, OCR found the HMO violated HIPAA by relying on a form to make the disclosure that failed to meet the Privacy Rule requirements to qualify as a valid authorization under the Privacy Rule.  Based on these findings, OCR required the HMO among other things:

  • To create a new HIPAA-compliant authorization form that specifies what records and/or portions of the files will be disclosed, that the respective authorization will be kept in the patient’s record, together with the disclosed information and otherwise to meet the content requirements of the Privacy Rule for an authorization; and
  • To implement a new policy that directs staff to obtain patient signatures on these forms before responding to any disclosure requests, even if patients bring in their own “authorization” form.

Another action resulted after a national health maintenance organization sent explanation of benefits (EOB) by mail to a complainant’s unauthorized family member. OCR’s investigation determined that a flaw in the health plan’s computer system put the protected health information of approximately 2,000 families at risk of disclosure in violation of the Privacy Rule.  To resolve this case, OCR required among other things that the insurer to correct the flaw in its computer system, review all transactions for a six month period and correct all corrupted patient information.

In yet another case, OCR found an employee of a major health insurer impermissibly disclosed the PHI of one of its members without following the insurer’s authorization and verification procedures. Among other corrective actions to resolve the specific issues in the case, OCR required the health insurer to train its staff on the applicable policies and procedures, to take action to mitigate the harm to the individual and to counsel and give a written warning to an employee who made the disclosure.

While OCR declined to impose any civil penalties in any of these three instances, violations of the Privacy Rules have resulted in both criminal prosecutions by the Department of Justice and the payment of large civil settlements to OCR.  See, e.g., 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health Information  HIPAA Risks Soar As CVS Agrees to Pay $2.25 Million To Resolve HIPAA Charges & Stimulus Bill Amends HIPAA.  Furthermore, recent amendments to the Privacy Rules increase the likelihood that health plans and other covered entities violating the Privacy Rules will incur civil penalties.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) amended the Privacy Rules effective October, 2009 to increase the civil penalties for Privacy Rule violations and to include new breach notification requirements for covered entities.  Additional ARRA amendments to HIPAA scheduled to take effect February 17, 2010 will further tighten the conditions under which covered entities may use, access or disclose PHI under the Privacy Rules, will expand the circumstances under which health plans and other covered entities will be required to account for dealings with PHI under HIPAA, and will extend the duty to comply with and liability for violations of the Privacy Rules to business associates.  In the meanwhile, employees increasingly are alleging Privacy Rule violations as part of their whistleblower or other wrongful discharge claims.  See, e.g. Retaliation For Filing HIPAA Complaint Recognized As Basis For State Retaliatory Discharge Claim.

In light of these changing rules and expanding liabilities, health plans and their business associates need to review and update their Privacy and Security practices, business associate agreements and privacy notices for compliance in light of the expanding enforcement activities of OCR and these evolving Privacy and Security Rules.  These and other developments make it imperative that health plans and other covered entities and their business associates immediately review and update their HIPAA and other data security and privacy practices to guard against growing liability exposures under HIPAA and other federal and state laws.

If your organization needs assistance reviewing, updating, administering or defending privacy and data security practices under HIPAA, state data breach or other laws, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP can help.  The author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health plans, health insurers, and other covered entities and business associates to review, update, document, enforce and defend their HIPAA and other privacy and data security policies and practices.  The author of numerous publications on HIPAA and other privacy and data security rules, she also speaks and conducts training extensively on these concerns. 

Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with HIPAA and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers, health plans, insurers and others against privacy, tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the OCR, DOJ,IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

 

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©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.