$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report

Resolution Agreement Also 1st Announced With Health Plan

Health care providers, health plans and other covered entities beware and prepare! Reporting a large breach under the HITECH Act breach notification rules will trigger a Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigation into whether OCR should impose civil monetary penalties against the reporting covered entity under the Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) has agreed to pay OCR $1,500,000 and to take certain other actions specified in a corrective action plan to avoid civil monetary penalties for charges of HIPAA violations.  The BCBST Resolution Agreement is particularly significant, both as:

  • The first reported enforcement action directly resulting from the filing by a covered entity of a breach report required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act Breach Notification Rule; and
  • The first reported resolution agreement reached with a covered entity that is a health plan.

These notable enforcement firsts show the HITECH Breach Notification Rule’s significance as an OCR HIPAA enforcement tool, the heightened exposure to an OCR opening a HIPAA civil monetary penalty (CMP) investigation following a report, as well as the willingness of OCR to sanction health plans as well as other covered entities that breach HIPAA’s Privacy or Security Rules.

BCBST Investigation Began In Response to HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule Report

The OCR investigation that lead to the BCBST settlement began in response to BCBST making a report required under the Breach Notification Rule of the theft of 57 unencrypted computer hard drives from a leased facility in Tennessee, which contained the protected health information (PHI) of over 1 million individuals.  Read more details here.

The Breach Notification Rule enacted as part of amendments to HIPAA under the HITECH Act requires covered entities to report an impermissible use or disclosure of protected health information, or a “breach,” of 500 individuals or more to HHS and the media as well as an annual consolidated report of smaller breaches to HHS.[1]  Along with the Breach Notification Rules, the HITECH Act also increased the civil monetary penalties (CMPs) that covered entities like BCBST can incur for HIPAA violations. When it imposed its first ever CMP last year, OCR imposed a $4.3 million CMP against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, Md. (Cignet).

In an apparent effort to impose a potentially larger CMP assessment arising from the investigation of its breach report, BCBST greed to pay $1,500,000 and adopt other corrective actions detailed in a corrective action plan.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The BCBST Resolution Agreements, like the Cignet CMP and other high dollar Resolution Agreements OCR has announced against various health care providers highlight the significance of the HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA’s enforcement and CMP rules, as well as the significance of its Breach Notification Rule as a tool in OCR’s investigation and enforcement efforts.

“This settlement sends an important message that OCR expects health plans and health care providers to have in place a carefully designed, delivered, and monitored HIPAA compliance program,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “The HITECH Breach Notification Rule is an important enforcement tool and OCR will continue to vigorously protect patients’ right to private and secure health information.” 

The BCBST Resolution Agreement provides yet another reminder to covered entities and their business associates of the 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 WebsiteCovered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.  Fortips, 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 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.   

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.

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.


[1] The Breach Notification Rule also requires that covered entities report smaller breaches annually to OCR as part of a consolidated disclosure.

For more tips, 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 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.   

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.

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.

Other Recent Updates & Resources

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in the following recent updates on health care, health plan and employee benefits, human resources and other risk management and compliance matters.  Recent examples on health care compliance and risk management matters include:

For additional resources and publications training materials by Ms. Stamer, see here.  

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


[*] The Breach Notification Rule also requires that covered entities report smaller breaches annually to OCR as part of a consolidated disclosure.

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