The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a new set of HIPAA FAQs addressing the applicability of HIPAA to certain health apps and the covered entities and business associates that interact with them. These FAQs build upon prior guidance from OCR that outlined the framework for evaluating whether a … Continue Reading
On Friday, April 26, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) filed a Notice of Enforcement Decision (the “Notice of Enforcement”), confirming the agency’s reconsideration of its prior interpretation of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’s (the “HITECH Act’s”) penalty structure. In doing so, HHS announced the abandonment … Continue Reading
The Privacy and Security Tiger Team, a subcommittee of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's HIT Policy Committee, has recommended that the Office for Civil Rights of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services abandon its May 2011 proposed rule to require covered entities to provide patients with a list of workforce members who have accessed protected health information contained in an electronic designated record set, concluding that the rule is overbroad and lacks value.… Continue Reading
After receiving more than 2,000 comments to its April 2013 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department of Health & Human Services has proposed to amend the HIPAA Privacy Rule to expressly permit certain covered entities to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ("NICS") the identities of individuals who are prohibited by federal law, for mental health reasons, from possessing firearms (commonly referred to as the "mental health prohibitor").
OCR has cited concerns that the existing HIPAA Privacy Rule may be preventing some state entities (which likely perform both HIPAA-covered and non-covered functions) from reporting to the NICS the identities of individuals subject to the mental health prohibitor. Therefore, HHS has proposed to add to the Privacy Rule new provisions at 45 CFR § 164.512(k)(7), which would permit certain covered entities to disclose the minimum necessary demographic and other information for NICS reporting purposes.… Continue Reading
According to a report published by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on November 21, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is not adequately overseeing and enforcing the HIPAA Security Rule. The OIG's report concluded that OCR failed to provide for periodic audits to ensure that covered entities were in compliance with the Security Rule, and failed to consistently follow its investigation procedures and maintain documentation needed to support key decisions made during investigations conducted in response to reported violations of the Security Rule.… Continue Reading
On September 17, 2012, the HHS Office of Civil Rights ("OCR") announced another settlement and corrective action plan following an entity's breach self-report required by HITECH's Breach Notification Rule. Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, Inc. (collectively "MEEI") have agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule following the theft of a physician's unencrypted, but protected, laptop, providing additional evidence that: (1) OCR will likely view any breach notification as an opportunity to conduct a de facto audit of an entity's general HIPAA compliance; and (2) encryption of all portable devices containing electronic protected health information ("ePHI"), though not technically "required," is a critical compliance consideration.… Continue Reading
On May 24, 2012, the Attorney General of Massachusetts announced that South Shore Hospital of South Weymouth, Massachusetts (South Shore) agreed to settle allegations that it failed to protect the personal and protected health information of more than 800,000 individuals. The settlement resulted from the hospital’s data breach report to the Attorney General in July … Continue Reading
On April 17, 2012, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced a settlement and corrective action plan with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. (Phoenix), a small cardiology practice based in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona. More specifically, Phoenix has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle allegations of HIPAA violations arising out of an investigation conducted by OCR.… Continue Reading
On March 13, 2012, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced the first enforcement action resulting from a breach self-report required by HITECH's Breach Notification Rule. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) has agreed to pay HHS $1,500,000 to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and has entered into a corrective action plan to address gaps in its HIPAA compliance program.
The HIPAA/HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities to report a breach (e.g., an impermissible use or disclosure of protected health information that compromises the security or privacy of the protected health information) to the affected individual(s), HHS and, at times, the media. OCR's investigation of BCBST followed a breach report submitted by BCBST informing HHS that 57 unencrypted computer hard drives were stolen from a leased facility in Tennessee. The hard drives contained the protected health information of more than 1 million individuals, including member names, social security numbers, diagnosis code, dates of birth, and health plan identification numbers.
According to OCR's investigation, BCBST failed to implement appropriate administrative and physical safeguards as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. More specifically, BCBST failed to perform the required security evaluation in response to operational changes and did not have adequate facility access controls.
In addition to the $1,500,000 settlement, the Resolution Agreement between BCBST and OCR requires BCBST to revise its Privacy and Security policies, conduct robust trainings for all employees, and perform monitor reviews to ensure compliance with the corrective action plan. BCBST did not admit any liability in the agreement and OCR did not concede that BCBST was not liable for civil monetary penalties.
Additional information about OCR's enforcement activities can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/index.html.… Continue Reading
To implement the HITECH Act's mandate for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to perform HIPAA audits, OCR has just announced that it is piloting a program to perform up to 150 audits of covered entities to assess privacy and security compliance. Audits conducted during the pilot phase are planned to begin with an initial 20 audits between November 2011 and April 2012. The remaining audits are scheduled to conclude by December 2012. All covered entities and business associates are eligible for audits; however, OCR has indicated that it is focusing on covered entities (range in type and size) in the initial phase. Business associates will be included in future audits.… Continue Reading
The interest level in storing health records in digital format has grown rapidly with the lower cost and greater availability and reliability of interoperable storage mechanisms and devices. Health care providers like hospitals and health systems, physician practices, and health insurance companies are among those most likely to be considering a cloud-based solution for the storage of patient-related health information. While lower cost, ubiquitous 24/7 availability, and reliability are key drivers pushing health care providers and insurers to the cloud, a number of serious legal and regulatory issues should be considered before releasing sensitive patient data into the cloud. The issues are highlighted in the Health Care chapter of our Cloud Computing White Paper.… Continue Reading
Today the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking implementing provisions of the HITECH Act related to accounting for disclosures of protected health information (PHI). Pursuant to the HITECH Act and its more general authority under HIPAA, HHS proposed to divide the Privacy Rule provisions related to an accounting into two separate individual rights: (1) an accounting and, (2) an access report.… Continue Reading
This post was also written by Gina M. Cavalier and Vicky G. Gormanly. Pursuant to the HITECH Act, covered entities and business associates must account for disclosures of PHI for treatment, payment and health care operations if the disclosures are through an electronic health record. This represents a significant change to the requirements under the current … Continue Reading
According to a senior health information technology and privacy specialist at HHS Office for Civil Right (OCR), regulations finalizing the July 14, 2010, proposed rule implementing many of the HITECH Act's privacy, security, and enforcement requirements could be published by the end of 2010 or in early 2011. Additionally, OCR, developing a HITECH Act required "periodic audit" plan, which will be targeted to ensure that covered entities and business associates comply with the requirements of the Privacy and Security Rules.… Continue Reading
HHS has just released its proposed rule modifying the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Enforcement Rules to implement the privacy, security, and certain enforcement provisions of subtitle D of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (Title XIII of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). The advance version of the rule can be accessed here; the official version will be published July 14. A press release should be available later this morning.… Continue Reading
The Health Information Privacy page of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website has formally announced that regulations implementing the privacy and security provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act will soon be published (along with a comment period) relating to (1) business associate liability; (2) new limitations on the sale of protected health information, marketing and fundraising communications; and (3) stronger individual rights to access electronic medical records and restrict the disclosure of certain information. Although this posting is certainly welcome news, from a timing perspective the announcement only indicates that "OCR continues work on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding these provisions."… Continue Reading
On Friday, October 30, 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") published an interim final rule and request for comments that implements certain HIPAA enforcement changes made pursuant to the HITECH Act. Consistent with the provisions of the HITECH Act, the new rule amends the HIPAA enforcement regulations applicable to violations of each of HIPAA's Administrative Simplification Rules (i.e., Privacy Rule, Security Rule, Transactions and Code Sets Rules, Standard Unique Identifier for Employers (EIN Rule), and the Standard Unique identifier for Health Care Providers (NPI Rule)) by instituting the below categories of violations and tiered penalty scheme to HIPAA violations that occur on or after February 18, 2009.… Continue Reading
The recently enacted Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health ("HITECH") Act, which amends various aspects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"), including the associated Privacy and Security Rules, marks a significant change in how covered entities and their business associates must respond to security breaches under HIPAA.… Continue Reading
Until now, the loss or theft of protected health information rarely resulted in notice to consumers. Very few state data security breach notification laws encompass medical information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") merely required an "accounting" of such events to a patient upon the patient's request.
All that has changed. Congress, in enacting the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act ("HITECH"), imposed breach notification obligations on many of the individuals and business entities that receive, create, or maintain patients' individually identifiable health information. Pursuant to HITECH, on Aug. 17, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") issued its Health Breach Notification Rule, governing the breach notification obligations of three new categories of entity: "vendors of personal health records," "PHR related entities" and "third party service providers."… Continue Reading