Tag Archives: Protected Health Information (PHI)

The Scope of HIPAA Preemption in Florida: More Questions than Answers

This post was also written by Zachary A. Portin. On April 9, 2013, the Eleventh Circuit held that HIPAA preempts a Florida statute that requires nursing homes to release medical records of deceased residents to their spouses, attorneys-in-fact and other enumerated parties who request them.  In Opis Management Resources LLC v. Secretary Florida Agency for … Continue Reading

Loose Lips Sink… Providers?

This post was also written by Zachary A. Portin. Can a medical corporation be directly liable under New York law for breaching its common law fiduciary duty of confidentiality when a non-physician employee acted outside the scope of his or her employment by making an unauthorized disclosure of an individual’s confidential health information?  This is … Continue Reading

OCR Announces Expansion of its Health Information Privacy Enforcement Team

On February 27, 2013, the HHS Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") announced the availability of several Health Information Privacy Specialist positions. This expansion of OCR's health information privacy enforcement team signals that OCR's increased enforcement activity during 2012 will continue in 2013. In 2012, OCR announced several enforcement actions resulting from a breach self-report required by HITECH's Breach Notification Rule, including the $1.7 million settlement in June with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary's $1.5 million settlement in September. OCR's 2012 enforcement actions, and OCR leadership comments subsequent to the release of the HITECH Final Rule, suggest that the agency's focus will be on Security Rule compliance (specifically with regard to the whether a regulated entity has conducted a Security Rule Risk Assessment), the lack of overall HIPAA compliance that may lead to a breach (as opposed to the breach itself), and issues involving marketing or the sale of Protected Health Information. Covered entities and business associates should expect OCR enforcement, including audits, to continue to increase over the next year.… Continue Reading

OCR Continues to Use Breach Self-Reports as an Invitation to Audit General HIPAA Compliance

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

Massachusetts Attorney General Strikes: South Shore Hospital Settles Data Breach Allegations for $750,000

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

Small Cardiology Practice to Pay $100,000 to Settle Allegations of HIPAA Violations

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

OCR Announces First Enforcement Action Resulting From a Breach Self-Report

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

Transcending the Cloud: A Legal Guide to the Risks and Rewards of Cloud Computing – Health Care in the Cloud

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

Authentication Practices and Secure Communications in the Life Sciences and Health Care Industry

Information security is paramount in the life sciences and health care industry because it is subject to affirmative regulatory requirements regarding the physical and technical safeguards used to secure electronic information. It is therefore troubling that the Internet protocols that are universally used to transmit encrypted information employ an authentication process (to verify the endpoints of a communication) that is deeply flawed. The authentication process requires the parties to the communication to trust literally hundreds of unknown third parties referred to as "certificate authorities." The closer one looks at the identity of these third parties and the processes used to carry out the authentication process, the worse it gets. It is time for GCs to get involved because Encryption is Not Enough...… Continue Reading

New HHS Regulations Impose Federal Security Breach Notification Requirements

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
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