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.

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


Parkview Hospital To Pay $800K To Settle HIPAA Charges After Retiring Physician Blows The Whistle

July 6, 2014

Health care providers, health plans, heath care clearinghouses and their business associates heed both the lesson about properly protecting protected health information and the more subtle lesson about the role of employees and other whistleblowers in bringing these violations to the attention of regulators contained in the latest Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) resolution agreement.

Late last month, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (HHS) announced that complaints of a retiring physician over the mishandling of her patient records by Parkview Health System, Inc. (Parkview) prompted the investigation that lead Parkview to agree to pay $800,000 to settle charges that it violated HIPAA’s Privacy Rule.

The resolution agreement settles charges lodged by HHS based on an OCR investigation into the retiring physician’s allegations that Parkview violated the HIPAA Privacy Rule by failing to properly safeguard the records when it returned them to the physician following her retirement.

As a covered entity under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA requires that Parkview appropriately and reasonably safeguard all protected health information in its possession, from the time it is acquired through its disposition.

In an investigation prompted by the physician’s complaint, OCR found that Parkview breached this responsibility in its handling of certain physician patient records in helping the physician to transition to retirement.

According to OCR, in September 2008, Parkview took custody of medical records pertaining to approximately 5,000 to 8,000 patients while assisting the retiring physician to transition her patients to new providers, and while considering the possibility of purchasing some of the physician’s practice.

Subsequently on June 4, 2009, Parkview employees, with notice that the physician was not at home, left 71 cardboard boxes of these medical records unattended and accessible to unauthorized persons on the driveway of the physician’s home, within 20 feet of the public road and a short distance away from a heavily trafficked public shopping venue. OCR concluded this conduct violated the Privacy Rule.

To settle OCR’s charges that these actions violated HIPAA, OCR has agreed to pay the $800,000 resolution amount and to adopt and implement a corrective action plan requiring Parkview to revise their policies and procedures, train staff, and provide an implementation report to OCR.

The resolution agreement highlights the role that current or former physicians, employees or others can play in helping OCR to identify HIPAA violations.  Health care providers and other covered entities and their business associates should take into account the likelihood that physicians on their own or other facility medical staffs, their employees and other participants in the care delivery system often may have and be motivated to report to government sensitive information about violations of HIPAA or other laws.  Since HIPAA and most other laws prohibited covered entities from forbidding or retaliating against a person for objectiving to or reporting the concern and offer whistleblowers potential participation in the reporting and prosecution of violations, employees or other workforce members increasingly make the complaints bring violations to OCR and other regulators.

Whether from an internal employee complaint, a  patient or competitor complaint or other source, HIPAA violations carry significant liability risks.  The HITECH Act tightened certain rules applicable to the use, access or disclosure of protected health information by covered entities and their business associates.  In addition, the HITECH Act added breach notification rules, extended direct responsibility for compliance with HIPAA to business associates, increased penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA and made other refinements to HIPAA’s medical privacy rules and made certain other changes.  Furthermore, enforcement of HIPAA and the resulting penalties have increased since the HITECH Act took effect.

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations higher than ever since the HITECH Act amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, Covered Entities and business associates not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, but also document their commitment and ongoing compliance and risk management activities to help support their ability to show their organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation and take well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage their business associates to do the same.    When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws like the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information, trade secrets or other sensitive data under applicable federal and state laws and judicial precedent.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your HIPAA, or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, privacy and data security, or other internal controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or at (469)767-8872.

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on privacy and data security and other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  Her many highly regarded publications on privacy and data security concerns include “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective.” ERISA Litigation Manual. BNA, 2003-2009; “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell.” BNA Tax Management and Compliance Journal. February 4, 2005; “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security beyond HIPAA.” ABA Health eSource. May, 2005 and many others.  She also regularly conducts training on HIPAA and other privacy and data security compliance and other risk management matters for a broad range of organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Healthcare Organizations (ASTHO), the Los Angeles County Health Department, a multitude of health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, the American Bar Association, SHRM, the Society for Professional Benefits Administrators and many others.  Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at http://www.solutionslawpress.com 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 at www.SolutionsLawPress.com.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Health Care & Other HIPAA Covered Entities Should Review New Reports As Part of HIPAA Risk Management Efforts

June 11, 2014

Health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (collectively “Covered Entities”), their business associates, and others concerned about medical privacy regulations or protections should check out two new reports to Congress about breach notifications reported and other compliance data under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).   Reviewing this data can help Covered Entities and their business associates identify potential areas of exposures and enforcement that can be helpful to minimize their HIPAA liability as well as to expect OCR enforcement and audit inquiries.

Required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the two new reports discuss various details about HIPAA compliance for calendar years 2011 and 2012.  They include the following:

  • Report to Congress on Breach Notifications, discussing the breach notification requirements and reports OCR received as a result of these breach notification requirements; and
  • Report to Congress on Compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, summarizing complaints received by OCR of alleged violations of the provisions of Subtitle D of the HITECH Act, as well as of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules at 45 CFR Parts 160 and 164 .
  • Covered entities and their business associates should review the finding reported as part of their compliance practices. Others concerned about medical or other privacy or data security regulations or events also may find the information in the reports of interest.

Under HIPAA, covered entities generally are prohibited from using, accessing or disclosing protected health information about individuals except as specifically allowed by HIPAA,  In addition, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to establish safeguards to protect protected health information against improper access, use or destruction, to afford certain rights to individuals who are the subjects of protected information, to obtain certain written assurances from service providers who are business associates before allowing those service providers to use, access or disclose protected health information when carrying out covered functions for the Covered Entity, and meet other requirements.

The HITECH Act tightened certain rules applicable to the use, access or disclosure of protected health information by covered entities and their business associates.  In addition, the HITECH Act added breach notification rules, extended direct responsibility for compliance with HIPAA to business associates, increased penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA and made other refinements to HIPAA’s medical privacy rules and made certain other changes.

Enforcement of HIPAA and the resulting penalties have increased since the HITECH Act took effect.

Covered Entities generally have been required to comply with most requirements the Omnibus Final Rule’s restated regulations restating OCR’s regulations implementing the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules to reflect HIPAA amendments enacted by the HITECH Act since March 26, 2013 and to have updated business associate agreements in place since September 23, 2013.  Although these deadlines are long past, many Covered Entities and business associates have yet to complete the policy, process and training updates required to comply with the rule changes implemented in  the Omnibus Final Rule.

Even if a Covered Entity or business associate completed the updates required to comply with the Omnibus Final Rule, however, recent supplemental guidance published by OCR means that most organizations now have even more work to do on HIPAA compliance. This includes the following supplemental guidance on its interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA against Covered Entities and business associates published by OCR since January 1, 2014 alone:

Beyond this 2014 guidance, Covered Entities and their business associates also should look at enforcement actions and data as well as other guidance OCR issued during 2013 after publishing the Omnibus Final Rule such as:

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations higher than ever since the HITECH Act amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, Covered Entities and business associates not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, but also document their commitment and ongoing compliance and risk management activities to help support their ability to show their organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation and take well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage their business associates to do the same.    When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws like the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information, trade secrets or other sensitive data under applicable federal and state laws and judicial precedent.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your HIPAA, or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, privacy and data security, or other internal controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or at (469)767-8872.

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on privacy and data security and other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  Her many highly regarded publications on privacy and data security concerns include “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective.” ERISA Litigation Manual. BNA, 2003-2009; “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell.” BNA Tax Management and Compliance Journal. February 4, 2005; “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security beyond HIPAA.” ABA Health eSource. May, 2005 and many others.  She also regularly conducts training on HIPAA and other privacy and data security compliance and other risk management matters for a broad range of organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Healthcare Organizations (ASTHO), the Los Angeles County Health Department, a multitude of health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, the American Bar Association, SHRM, the Society for Professional Benefits Administrators and many others.  Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at http://www.solutionslawpress.com 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 at www.SolutionsLawPress.com.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Small Smiles Dental Centers Excluded As Federal Health Program Provider For 5 Years

April 4, 2014

Yesterday’s announcement of the exclusion of the operator and manager of the national dental chain, Small Smiles Dental Centers, from exclusion in Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health programs highlights the risks health care providers run by failing to comply with a Corporate Integrity Agreement.

Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced April 3, 2014 that the operator and manager of the Small Smiles Dental Centers, CSHM, LLC (formerly known as FORBA Holdings and Church Street Health Management (CSHM), has signed an Exclusion Agreement that bars CSHM from participating in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs for 5 years. Small Smiles Dental Centers provides services primarily to children on Medicaid.

Mr. Levinson said that this exclusion “makes clear to the provider community that OIG closely monitors our CIAs, critically evaluates providers’ representations and certifications, and will pursue exclusion actions against providers that fail to abide by their integrity agreement obligations.”

According to the announcement, the exclusion is based on CSHM’s alleged material breaches of its Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

CSHM’s corporate predecessor entered into the CIA in 2010, as part of the resolution of a False Claims Act case involving allegations that the company had provided dental services to children on Medicaid that were medically unnecessary or failed to meet professionally recognized standards of care.

On March 7, 2014, OIG issued a Notice of Exclusion to CSHM based upon numerous material breaches of its obligations under the CIA. CSHM failed to report serious quality-of-care reportable events, take corrective action, or make appropriate notifications of those events to the State dental boards as required by the CIA, OIG found. CSHM also failed to implement and maintain key quality-related policies and procedures, comply with internal quality and compliance review requirements, properly maintain a log of compliance disclosures, and perform training as required by the CIA. Finally, CSHM submitted a false certification from its Compliance Officer regarding its compliance with CIA obligations.

This exclusion marks the culmination of a series of alleged failures by CSHM and its corporate predecessors to comply with its CIA. Under the CIA, an independent quality monitor conducted more than 90 site visits and reviews to monitor CSHM’s compliance. Since the 2010 settlement, OIG repeatedly cited CSHM and took actions to address those violations, promote improved compliance, and maintain access to care for an underserved population. These actions included imposing financial penalties and forcing the divestiture of one of the company’s clinics.

Despite these actions, CSHM remained in material breach of its CIA and OIG issued Notices of Intent to Exclude to the company in December 2013 and January 2014. In such cases, providers get the chance to show OIG that they have cured, or are in the process of curing, the material breaches. CSHM represented to OIG that it would cure the material breaches. However, through meetings with CSHM and its Board of Directors and review of its written submissions, OIG determined that CSHM had failed to cure the material breaches and proceeded with the exclusion.

CSHM disputed OIG’s determination that it was in material breach of the CIA. However, under the Exclusion Agreement, CSHM now has waived its objections to these findings.

To minimize immediate disruption of care to the hundreds of thousands of children treated at CSHM clinics and to enable an orderly, controlled shutdown of the company or divestiture of its assets, the exclusion takes effect September 30, 2014. CSHM waived its right to appeal this exclusion in any judicial forum.

Until the exclusion goes into effect on September 30, 2014, an independent monitor will continue to monitor the quality of care being provided to patients at CSHM clinics. CSHM is required to inform patients at least 30 days before closing a clinic. CSHM is also required to keep State Medicaid agencies abreast of developments and provide monthly status reports to OIG. Any divestiture of assets by CSHM must be through bona fide, arms-length transactions to an entity that is not related to or affiliated with CSHM.

Beyond the implications for Small Smiles Dental Centers, the announced exclusion carries important implications for other health care providers.  First, of course, the exclusion means that Small Smiles Dental Centers and CSHM as excluded providers are ineligible for hiring by other providers participating in Medicare or other Federal Health Programs.  Second, the exclusion also highlights the advisability for other providers covered by CIAs not only to see to comply with their CIA and in the event the OIG questions of the adequacy of that compliance to look for opportunities to work with OIG to rectify alleged concerns as cooperatively as possible unless a high degree of certainty that the provider can prove that OIG’s concerns are unfounded.

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.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to health care, human resources, tax, privacy, safety, antitrust, civil rights, and other laws as well as with internal 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. 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 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.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

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 available at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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.


 


NLRB Helps Union Force Another Health Care Employer To Recognize & Bargain With Union

March 13, 2014

Hospitals, skilled nursing and other health care organizations need to be concerned about union organizing of  their employees in light of the growing success of unions with the aid of the pro-union support and agenda of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)  under the Obama Administration’s leadership.  The Administration’s goal of telling health care providers what to do extends well beyond Medicare and Medicaid into their workforce and terms and conditions of employment.

 On February 21, 2014, for instance, the Obama Administration helped the Service Employees International Union (the Union) force Holy Cross Youth and Family Services, Inc., d/b/a Kairos Healthcare (the Employer), a provider of drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, to recognize and bargain with the  over terms and conditions of employees with the Union by securing a court order forcing the employer to recognize and bargain with the Union.

 Ruling in a lawsuit filed by the NLRB against the Employer on February 21,  a federal court judge for the Eastern District of Michigan ordered upheld the allegations made in August 23, 2013 by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Detroit, Michigan Regional Office that the Employer violated the National Labor Relations Act when it withdrew recognition from Local 517M, made unilateral changes to employees’ terms and conditions of employment without affording the Union an opportunity to bargain over those changes, and failed to provide relevant information to the Union to help in its bargaining with the Employer on behalf of the employees.

The Regional Office sought, and the Board authorized, seeking interim injunctive relief to return the parties to the bargaining table pending final resolution of the matter, to require the Employer to provide the Union with the information it requested and, upon request, to rescind the unilateral changes made to employees’ terms and conditions of employment.

On February 21, 2014, the District upheld the Regional Office’s action.  It ruled that an interim injunction was appropriate to prevent loss of Union support, to keep the employees’ right to bargain with their Employer through their chosen bargaining representative, and to provide the Union with the information it needs to evaluate and make bargaining proposals while the administrative case is pending before the Board.

The case is one of a growing number of actions where the NLRB has used is powers to help Unions force health care and other employers to yield to union demands.  See e.g., Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation of Mobile, Board Case No. 15-CA-68248 (reported at 357 NLRB No. 174) (6th Cir. decided August 15, 2013 under the name Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC f/k/a Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation of Mobile v. NLRB).

These decisions should remind health care and other employers of the highly union-friendly bent of the NLRB under the current administration, as well as the hazards of mishandling efforts to defend against union organizing and other protected activities under the NLRA.  Beyond the obligation to recognize and bargain with properly certified collective bargaining unions, the NLRB and other federal labor laws also grant employees a host of other protections.  Among these are recently affirmed rights-even for a worker not represented by a union – to insist another employee be present when participating in disciplinary and certain other meetings with management, rules limit the ability of employers to prohibit or restrict employees requiring employees to keep confidential and not discuss among each other  salary, wages or other terms of compensation or employment  terms and conditions, and others.  The Obama Administration has made known its desire to expand these rights further and has carried out an aggressive legislative, regulatory and enforcement campaign in pursuit of this goal since taking office.  For this reason, health care or other organizations should seek the advice and assistance of qualified legal counsel experienced with labor management relations matters to review policies for compliance, to prepare and administer anti-organizing activities, and to evaluate and respond to union organizing or bargaining activities.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance responding to health industry staffing and workforce, 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, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law, Ms. Stamer’s experience includes continuous involvement in advising and representing health care organizations about employment, labor-management, peer review and staffing and other workforce management and compensation concerns.  Ms. Stamer also 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. 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.


APDerm To Pay $150k To Settle 1st HIPAA Breach Rule Charges

December 27, 2013

A new settlement agreement announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) shows health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates the perils of failing to properly implement the necessary policies and procedures to comply with the breach notification requirements added to the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) added by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

APDerm Settlement Overview

Private dermatology practice, Adult & Pediatric Dermatology, P.C., (APDerm) has agreed to pay $150,000 and implement a corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy,  Security, and Breach Notification Rules.  The APDerm Settlement  marks the first settlement with a covered entity for not having policies and procedures in place to address the breach notification provisions of the HITECH Act.

According to its December 26, 2013 announcement of the settlement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation of APDerm upon receiving a report that an unencrypted thumb drive containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 2,200 individuals was stolen from a vehicle of one its staff members. The thumb drive was never recovered.  The investigation revealed that APDerm had not conducted an accurate and thorough analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality of ePHI as part of its security management process.  Further, APDerm did not fully comply with requirements of the Breach Notification Rule to have in place written policies and procedures and train workforce members.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The APDerm settlement provides more evidence of the growing exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates 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 WebsiteIt joins the  growing list of settlement or resolution agreements under HIPAA announced by OCR.

The APDerm also is notable both as it settles the first ever charges against a covered entity for failing to adopt required Breach Notification policies and procedures and the relatively most settlement payment required in comparison to other announced settlement.  Other settlements have been significantly higher.  For instance,  OCR required that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay $1.5 million to resolve HIPAA violations charges.

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 audit,  investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data, their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, evolving rules and technology, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable. For 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.

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.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to health care, human resources, tax, privacy, safety, antitrust, civil rights, and other laws as well as with internal 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. 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 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.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

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 available at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


[1] WHD’s announcement of the planned rule notes that this draft shared December 15 remains subject to change before formally published in the Federal Register


Reminder To Follow Confidentiality, Due Process When Conducting Peer Revew & Credentialing

December 16, 2013

Hospitals, physicians, health plans and others participating in credentialing and peer review activities need to use care to ensure that they and others involved in these matters understand and comply with the confidentiality requirements of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act and similar state laws.

Hospitals and their medical staffs, physician and other practice groups and other health care organizations commonly require or query the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) established under HCQIA and other sensitive professional and personal when checking the backgrounds and credentials of physicians seeking admission to the medical staff, employment, staff privileges, participation in provider panels or other positions.  These health care organizations and providers also frequently may receive inquiries from other health care providers or organizations seeking information about a provider who is applying for admission, employment or other status.  Finally, medical staffs, practices and other health care organizations from time to time may conduct credentialing, peer review or other disciplinary activities, or quality assurance reviews that may involve the discussion of information about the conduct, quality, discipline or other credentials and qualifications of current or former physicians at their own or another health care organization.

The investigation or discipline of a physician and certain other information regarding potential performance or credentialing concerns about a physician or other health care worker often by necessity involves the receipt, sharing, or use of sensitive professional or personal information with credentialing, management, medical staff leadership or others involved in the investigation, review or process.  When participating in any of these activities, all parties involved in the activities or providing input or participation in their conduct need to understand and be required to comply fully with all applicable confidentiality and privacy requirements.   While participants in these processes often may feel great temptation to circumvent formal processes in the name of expediency, to share sensitive insight with special relationships or other inducements to cut corners on confidentiality, the participants in these activities and the organizations conducting the activities should take all necessary steps to ensure that the participants carefully comply with the confidentiality and privacy requirements and only obtain and share information as allowed by and in accordance with the procedures established by these rules.

The background check rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) generally require that health care organizations, as well as other businesses, conducting background check or other investigations using third party data or investigators comply with the notice, consent and disclosures of the FCRA.  Parties requesting or providing information as part of a credentialing, peer review or other investigation should ensure that the necessary disclosures, notices and consents have been obtained before requesting or sharing information.  The fulfillment of these requirements should not be assumed as experience demonstrates that these requirements are commonly overlooked by many health care and other organizations engaged in these activities.

In addition to meeting the FCRA, HCQIA, most state peer review, and medical staff bylaws generally require that credentialing, peer review, quality assurance, and other performance and discipline activities be conducted in accordance with carefully prescribed rules, including specific requirements concerning the protection of the confidentiality of information about a provider.  While relatively rare, violation of HCQIA’s confidentiality rules can create significant liability.  For instance, after it self-disclosed conduct to the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG), The Queen’s Medical Center (QMC), Hawaii, agreed to pay $150,500 in civil money penalties for allegedly violating the NPDB in 2009.

Beyond the rare sanctions under HCQIA, failing to following the rules of HCQIA and state laws can undermine the defensibility of peer review and credentialing decisions by undermining the ability of participants in the process to rely upon the peer review privilege to protect deliberations and discussions conducted in connection with the peer review and credentialing process from discovery, as well as by providing evidence of bad faith, malice or other bad motivation or acts corrupted the process and determination.  Beyond hurting the defensibility of the credentialing and peer review process, violations of confidentiality or other procedures often also give rise to antitrust, defamation, invasion of privacy, tortious interferences, and other damage claims by physicians who feel their ability to practice and reputations have been injured by alleged improper conduct in connection with a peer review, credentialing or quality assurance process.

Beyond avoiding giving rise to claims by the targeted physician or other health care provider, all participants in these processes also need to use care to properly protect any individually identifiable patient information.  Records and information about a patient, his medical condition, payment history and other related patient data and information often involved in these activities typically qualifies as personal health information, the use, access, and disclosure of which is restricted by the Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and state common law, HIPAA and other medical records privacy and confidentiality laws.  In addition to the specific requirements of HIPAA and other medical information privacy laws, patient financial information and certain other sensitive information also may be protected by a broad range of federal and state laws protecting personal financial and other sensitive personal information, contractual rights created by privacy policies of the organizations involved or other laws.

Conducting proper credentialing, peer review and quality assurance activities is a critical aspect of the hiring and oversight of physicians and others providing care.  As important as these requirements are, health care providers and organizations participating in these activities need to remember that the physicians who are subjected to these requirements also enjoy confidentiality, due process and other legal protections, which can create significant liability when violated.  Consequently, health care organizations, physicians and members of management, and other staff and participants should use care to follow the proper procedures to ensure that physician rights to confidentiality, due process and other protections are honored as these activities are conducted.

Using care when discussing these concerns is equally important for a physician or other health care provider who is the subject of an investigation, credentialing, peer review, quality assurance or other activity.  While a physician whose personal or professional conduct or credentials are questioned understandably feels a strong urge to defend him or herself through a campaign of communication or other actions, physicians on the receiving end also need to follow the process and restrict their discussions.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, for additional information or representation.

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.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to health care, human resources, tax, privacy, safety, antitrust, civil rights, and other laws as well as with internal 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. 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 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.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

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 available at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


[1] WHD’s announcement of the planned rule notes that this draft shared December 15 remains subject to change before formally published in the Federal Register


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