On September 17, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced a $1.5 million settlement with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. (“MEEI”) for potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule. In connection with the announcement, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) Director Leon Rodriguez stated that organizations should pay special attention to safeguarding information “stored and transported on portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones” and that “compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules must be prioritized by management and implemented throughout an organization, from top to bottom.”
On July 31, 2012, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced a $2.5 million settlement with Accretive Health, Inc. (“Accretive”) for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) and its implementing regulations, and various Minnesota debt collection and consumer protection laws. As we previously reported in January 2012, Accretive, which acted as a business associate to two Minnesota hospital systems, experienced a breach in July 2011 that involved the protected health information of more than 23,000 patients.
On June 26, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced a resolution agreement and $1.7 million settlement with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”) for violations of the HIPAA Security Rule. This is the first HIPAA enforcement action taken by HHS against a state agency. In connection with the announcement, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) Director Leon Rodriguez stated that OCR “expect[s] organizations to comply with their obligations under [the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules] regardless of whether they are private or public entities.”
On June 7, 2012, at the annual Safeguarding Health Information: Building Assurance through HIPAA Security Conference hosted in Washington, D.C. by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”), OCR Director Leon Rodriguez said that, given HIPAA’s 15-year history and the substantial technical assistance OCR and NIST have provided covered entities, tolerance for HIPAA non-compliance is “much, much lower” than it has been in the past.
In the past month, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) sent its final omnibus rule modifying the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Enforcement Rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) and announced a $100,000 settlement with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. for violations of the HIPAA Rules.
On March 13, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced that it had settled the first case related to the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule. BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee (“BCBS Tennessee”) agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle potential HIPAA violations related to the October 2009 theft of 57 unencrypted hard drives containing protected health information (“PHI”) from a network data closet at a leased facility leased in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On January 19, 2012, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced a lawsuit against Accretive Health, Inc., (“Accretive”) for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) and its implementing regulations, the Minnesota Health Records Act, Minnesota’s debt collection statutes and Minnesota’s consumer protection laws. The suit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Minnesota, alleges that Accretive failed to adequately safeguard patients’ protected health information (“PHI”). This failure contributed to a July 2011 information security breach when an Accretive employee left an unencrypted laptop containing information of approximately 23,500 patients in a rental car. The laptop was stolen and has not yet been recovered.
On August 31, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law amendments to that state’s security breach notification statute. The revisions establish new content requirements for breach notification letters to California residents, and mandate notification to the state Attorney General when a breach affects more than 500 Californians. Senate Bill 24 was the third effort by State Senator Joe Simitian to build on the landmark California breach notification law he authored in 2002. The two previous bills he proposed were passed by the California legislature, but vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Several health care industry groups requested that the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) either remove or significantly revise a proposed “access report” requirement in its recent notice of proposed rulemaking (the “Proposed Rule”) for the accounting of disclosures of protected health information (“PHI”). As we reported in May, HHS issued the Proposed Rule that revises existing HIPAA Privacy Rule provisions regarding accounting of disclosures and gives individuals a new right to obtain an “access report” that would list the specific persons who have accessed a patient’s PHI, and describe any actions taken by those persons with respect to the PHI (e.g., create, modify, access or delete).
On July 28, 2011, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (“IAPP”) hosted a webinar that addressed the upcoming audit program of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”). Susan McAndrew, the Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy at OCR, provided an overview of the audit program, noting that it stemmed from Section 13411 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (“HITECH”) Act. That section of the HITECH Act authorized the Secretary of the Health and Human Services to “provide for periodic audits to ensure that covered entities and business associates” comply with the requirements of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.