Unpatched and Unsupported Software Triggers Latest HIPAA Security Breach Resolution Agreement

December 11, 2014

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates need to watch for and protect protected health information (PHI) against security exposures from unpatched or unsupported software and other weaknesses in their data security protections as part of their compliance obligations under the Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The need to monitor and address data security threats associated with unpatched or unsupported software is demonstrated by the December 9, 2014 announcement by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that Anchorage Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) will pay $150,000 and adopt a corrective action plan to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program resulting from unpatched and unsupported software.

OCR opened an investigation against the five-facility, nonprofit provider of behavioral health care services to children, adults, and families in Anchorage, Alaska after receiving notification from ACMHS of a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI) affecting 2,743 individuals due to malware compromising the security of its information technology resources.

According to the OCR announcement of the ACMHS Resolution Agreement with OCR, OCR’s investigation revealed that ACMHS had adopted sample Security Rule policies and procedures in 2005, but failed to follow these procedures. Moreover, OCR found that the reported security incident directly resulted of ACMHS failing to identify and address basic risks, such as not regularly updating their IT resources with available patches and running outdated, unsupported software.

“Successful HIPAA compliance requires a common sense approach to assessing and addressing the risks to ePHI on a regular basis,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. “This includes reviewing systems for unpatched vulnerabilities and unsupported software that can leave patient information susceptible to malware and other risks.”

In an effort to promote awareness of the need to assess and monitor the security of ePHI by covered entities and business associates, OCR continues to encourage covered entities and business associates to conduct regular documented evaluations of the adequacy of their ePHI safeguards and systems. To aid in this process, OCR and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology have created a Security Rule Risk Assessment Tool available here to assist organizations that handle PHI in conducting a regular review of the administrative, physical and technical safeguards they have in place to protect the security of the information. Since OCR points to the Tool as a resource, covered entities and business associates should anticipate that their failure to identify and address any deficiencies in the areas identified by the tools as a potentially serious compliance issue. As a result, covered entities and business associates likely will want to take steps to ensure that their records include documented review of the adequacy of the security safeguards identified in the Tool. At the same time, covered entities and their business associates should not assume that the Tool adequately covers all potential HIPAA Security Rule exposures. OCR has made clear in this and other Resolution Agreements that HIPAA’s Security Rule requires ongoing monitoring and assessment of the adequacy of security in response to changes in software or system, emerging threats and other developments.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care 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 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her 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, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, 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.

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. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see 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.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Congress Sends Bill To Fast Track FDA Ebola Treatment Review & HHS Declaration Gives Ebola Treatment Manufacturers Special Immunity

December 11, 2014

As part of Washington’s late response to the Ebola outbreak crisis, the House and Senate in the past week have passed legislation that if signed by the President as expected will add Ebola and other filoviruses to the list of diseases eligible for fast track review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program (Program).

The FDA Program awards vouchers to sponsors of human drug applications that are approved to prevent or treat designated tropical diseases. A voucher entitles the holder to have a future human drug application acted upon by the FDA within six months.

The House on December 3, 2014 and the Senate on December 10, 2014 respectively passed the “FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act,” (S.B. 2917/H.B. 5729) (the “Bill”) that will amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to add Ebola and other filoviruses to the list of diseases covered by the Program. The Bill also seeks to expedite FDA approval of Ebola and other designated disease treatments by:

  • Changing the process by which infectious diseases that do not significantly impact developed nations and disproportionately affect poor and marginalized populations can be designated as tropical diseases from rulemaking to order of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • Allowing priority review vouchers to be transferred between sponsors of human drug applications any number of times.
  • Reducing from 365 days to 90 days the advance notice required before submitting a human drug application subject to a priority review voucher.

Congress sent the Bill to the President just one day after Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell today announced a declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act HHS says it hopes will “facilitate the development and availability of experimental Ebola vaccines in hopes of  helping combat the current epidemic in West Africa and help prevent future outbreaks there.”

Fighting the disease in Africa has been the primary focus of the Obama Administration’s Ebola response.  The December 9, 2014 HHS declaration provides immunity under United States law against legal claims related to the manufacturing, testing, development, distribution, and administration of three vaccines for Ebola virus disease. It does not, generally, provide immunity for a claim brought in a court outside the United States.

For many years, the U.S. has encouraged vaccine development by managing liability and compensation, starting with the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. The PREP Act was designed to facilitate the development of medical countermeasures to respond to urgent public health needs, including the development of critical vaccines like those to prevent the spread of Ebola. This U.S. declaration under the PREP act is part of a global dialogue to address these issues in the U.S., and other countries where the vaccine is being developed, manufactured and potentially used.

“My strong hope in issuing this PREP Act declaration in the United States is that other nations will also enact appropriate liability protection and compensation legislation,” said Secretary Burwell. “As a global community, we must ensure that legitimate concerns about liability do not hold back the possibility of developing an Ebola vaccine, an essential strategy in our global response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”

HHS hopes the PREP Act declaration will strengthen the incentive to conduct research and spur development, manufacturing, and the potential use of the vaccines in large scale vaccination campaigns in West Africa. The PREP Act declaration provides legal protection under U.S. law for three vaccine candidates:

  • the GlaxoSmithKline’s Recombinant Replication Deficient Chimpanzee Adenovirus Type 3-Vectored Ebola Zaire Vaccine known as ChAd3-EBO-Z;
  • the BPSC1001 vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV-GP, made by BioProtection Services Corporation, a subsidiary of Newlink Genetics; and
  • the Ad26.ZEBOV/MVA-BN-Filo vaccine manufactured by Janssen Corporation, subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson/Bavarian Nordic.

Similar PREP Act declarations have been issued, revised or renewed 14 times since the Act was signed in 2005. Past declarations have covered vaccines used in H5N1 pandemic influenza clinical trials in 2008, products related to the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, and the development and manufacturing of antitoxins to treat botulism in 2008.  For more information about the PREP Act, see here .

The Bill and the HHS PREP Act declaration are the latest efforts to provide what many health care providers see as a long overdue response to the Ebola outbreak in the wake of the diagnosis and subsequent death of an Ebola patient in Dallas lead to his death and the infection of nurses involved in his treatment, and a small number of other Ebola victims in the United States raised national awareness and concern.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related developments or other 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 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her 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, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, 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.

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. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see 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.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Preparing Privacy Compliance For Emergencies-Ebola Crisis Prompts HHS OCR To Share Guidance On HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations

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.

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 More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care 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 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her 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, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, 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.

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. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see 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.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


CMS To Host Provider Webinar To Celebrate National Health IT Week

September 13, 2013

In celebration of the third annual National Health IT Week is September 16-20, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will host several webinars and launching new eHealth tools and resources that it intends to help providers participate in eHealth programs.  These programs may be of interest to providers as well as payers who are interested in what providers are doing to use eHealth tools.

Details of Webinar

The eHealth Provider Webinar will be held on Thursday, September 19th from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET.  CMS plans to present an overview of the eHealth programs and its eHealth initiative—an initiative that aligns health IT and electronic standards programs on:

  • Administrative Simplification
  • eRx Incentive Program
  • ICD-10
  • Quality Measurement

A portion of the webinar will also be dedicated to Q&A.

Registration Information

Space is limited.  Register now to secure your spot for the eHealth Provider WebinarOnce registration is complete, you will receive a follow-up email with step-by-step instructions on how to log-in to the webinar.  Listserv messages are sent prior to each webinar session with registration information.

If you’d like to view past webinars, the PowerPoint presentations and recordings can now be accessed on the Resources page of the eHealth website.  For more information about CMS’ eHealth Initiatives, visit the CMS eHealth website for the latest news and updates on CMS’ eHealth initiatives.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance responding to this invitation or with 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 action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, 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 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes extensive work advising, representing and training health industry and other clients on HIPAA and other privacy, data protection and breach and other related matters.  She also advises 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, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. 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. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR for the past three years, Ms. Stamer 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 on other compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters. Ms. Stamer also has extensive other public policy and regulatory experience with HHS and other U.S. federal and state agencies as well as internationally. Her insights on these and other related matters 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 get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  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 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.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Tell HHS What You Think-Comment On HHS Strategic Plan Now!

September 9, 2013

Health care providers, health plans, employers and others concerned about the regulatory and enforcement activities of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) can make their concerns known by speaking up now.  Share your input on the draft HHS strategic plan that will guide HHS’ regulatory and enforcement agenda for the next 4 years.

Every 4 years, HHS updates its strategic plan, which describes its work to address complex, multifaceted, and ever-evolving health and human service issues, including:

  • Health Care
  • Research and Innovation
  • Prevention and Wellness

HHS is inviting public input on the draft HHS Strategic Plan for FY 2014-2018. The comment period is open until October 15, 2013.  Individuals or organizations wishing to respond to this invitation can read the HHS Strategic Plan FY 2014-2018 (Draft) and submit your comments several ways including:

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance responding to this invitation for comment 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 action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, 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 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes extensive work advising, representing and training health industry and other clients on HIPAA and other privacy, data protection and breach and other related matters.  She also advises 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, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. 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. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR for the past three years, Ms. Stamer 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 on other compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters. Ms. Stamer also has extensive other public policy and regulatory experience with HHS and other U.S. federal and state agencies as well as internationally. Her insights on these and other related matters 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 get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  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 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.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


HHS Continues Preparations For Health Care Marketplace By Awarding $32M Of Grants To Up CHIP & Medicaid Enrollment

July 2, 2013

As part of its continuing efforts to promote enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace slated to take effect January 1, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today (July 2, 2013) announced the award of nearly $32 million in grants for efforts to identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grants were awarded to 41 state agencies, community health centers, school-based organizations and non-profit groups in 22 states; two grantees are multistate organizations.  The announcement follows the recent rollout of online tools to aid consumers enroll in the new Health Care Marketplace scheduled to launch January 1, 2014 as part of the continuing implementation of reforms enacted as part of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

Announced Grants Target Increased CHIP & Medicaid Enrollment

In amounts ranging from $190,000 to $1 million out of the $140 million included in the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009 for enrollment and renewal outreach,  HHS Reports the grants awarded to the grantees listed here focus on 5 areas:

  • Engaging schools in outreach, enrollment and retention activities (9 awards);
  • Reducing health coverage disparities by reaching out to subgroups of children that are less likely to have health coverage (8 awards);
  • Streamlining enrollment for individuals participating in other public benefit programs such as nutritional or other assistance programs (3 awards);
  • Improving application assistance resources to provide high quality, reliable Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal services in local communities (13 awards); and
  • Training communities to help families understand the new application and enrollment system and to deliver effective assistance to families with children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (8 awards).

According to HHS, the grants will build on the Secretary’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful.

According to HHS, Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grant Awards (Cycle III) Efforts to streamline Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal practices, combined with robust outreach activities, have helped reduce the number of uninsured children.  Since 2008,  HHS claims 1.7 million children have gained coverage and the rate of uninsured children has dropped to 6.6 percent in 2012

“Today’s grants will ensure that more children across the nation have access to the quality health care they need,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We are drawing from successful children’s health coverage outreach and enrollment efforts to help promote enrollment this fall in Medicaid and the new Health Insurance Marketplace.”

Continuing Preparations For New Health Care Marketplace

 The grant awards are part of a much broader effort by HHS to prepare Americans to enroll in the newly reformed Health Insurance Marketplace that the Obama Administration is working to implement as part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment is the Health Insurance Exchanges also to be included in the new federal health care marketplace is scheduled to begin October 1, 2013.  In anticipation of this deadline, HHS recently also announced its rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed www.healthcare.gov  website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report.

Businesses concerned about impending “pay-or-play” and other mandates that require many employers that fail to provide minimum essential coverage also have been critical about delayed guidance on these and other Affordable Care Act mandates, which employers claim have left them confused and with inadequate time and guidance to prepare.

Despite these concerns, HHS is marching ahead on its efforts to implement the law by launching these and other enrollment and educational outreach.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance understanding and responding to health care reforms, monitoring health and health plan related risk management and compliance, operations, 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.

The scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly advises and represents clients in dealings with, and monitoring and responding to developments of HHS, IRS, DOL, Departments of Health & Insurance and other agencies, Congress and other legislators, and advises clients, publishes and speaks extensively on health care reform, 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 health care reform and a broad range of other 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 ask 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 hereExamples 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 ask 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 on 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.

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


Hospital Pay $275K To Settle HIPAA Charges After Sharing PHI With Press, Workforce In Response To Fraud Reports

June 14, 2013

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses 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.

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 access 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 desire 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.

While this  means that health care providers or other 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.

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 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 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, 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 ask 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 hereExamples 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 on 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


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