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identify and address basic risks, such as not regularly updating their IT resources with available patches and running outdated, unsupported software.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.


$12M+ Settlement Recoveries In 2 Health Care Fraud Whistleblower Claims Shows Providers, Owners, Management & Staff Must Manage Compliance & Risks

November 23, 2012

The Justice Department’s announcement that it will recover more than $11.3 million in False Claims Act recoveries under two settlements announced on November 20, 2012 provides yet another sharp reminder to health care providers of the critical need to carefully manage billing, referral and other practices to manage health care fraud related exposures.

On November 20, the Justice Department announced that Morton Plant Mease Health Care Inc. and its affiliated hospitals (Morton Plant) will pay $10,169,114 to the federal government to resolve allegations that Morton Plant facilities violated the False Claims Act by submitting false claims for services rendered to Medicare patients.  The same day, the Justice Department also announced its achievement of a $1.286 million settlement with Harmony Care Hospital, Inc. and its owner Harmony Care Hospice Inc. (Harmony) and Harmony owner and chief executive officer Daniel J. Burton of allegations that the South Carolina-based company submitted false claims to Medicare for patients under care at its hospice facilities.  

Both settlements show the role that disgruntled current or former employees or other whistleblowers increasingly play in these and other health care fraud investigations as well as the significant exposures that health care providers, their owners and management risk by engaging or failing to investigate and resolve practices that Federal officials consider to violate the False Claims Act or other federal health care fraud laws.

Morton Plan Settlement

The Morton Plant settlement resolves whistleblower allegations that, between July 1, 2006 and July 31, 2008, Morton Plant improperly billed for certain interventional cardiac and vascular procedures as inpatient care when those services should have been billed as less costly outpatient care or as observational status.   See United States ex rel. Randi Ferrare v. Morton Plant Mease Health Care, Inc., No. 08:cv:01689-T-266MSS (M.D. Fl.).

Morton Plant owns and operates, or is affiliated with, Morton Plant Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, St. Anthony’s Hospital, Mease Countryside Hospital and Mease Dunedin Hospital.  These hospitals are part of the BayCare Health System in Florida’s Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The Morton Plant action arose from a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit filed by Randi Ferrare, a former director of Health Management Services at Morton Plant Hospital.   Under the False Claims Act, private citizens, known as relators, can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  Ms. Ferrare will receive over $1.8 million as her share of the government’s recovery.

Harmony $1.2 Million Settlement

The Harmony settlement arises out of a qui tam action filed against Harmony Care Hospice Inc. (Harmony) and Harmony owner and chief executive officer Daniel J. Burton have agreed to pay the United States $1,286,999.32 to settle allegations that the South Carolina-based company submitted false claims to Medicare for patients under care at its hospice facilities.

The Harmony settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by former Harmony employees Mona Singletary and Lynda Fulton under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.   The qui tam case is captioned United States ex rel. Singletary, et al. v. Harmony Care Hospice, Inc., et al. , Case No. 2:10-cv-01404-PMD (D.S.C.).

Hospices provide palliative care – medical treatment that concentrates on reducing the severity of a disease’s symptoms – to patients who decide to forego curative care of their illness.   Medicare beneficiaries are entitled to hospice care if they have a terminal prognosis of six months or less. The United States alleged that Harmony and Burton knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for patients who did not have such a prognosis and thus were not eligible for hospice care.

Under the Harmony settlement agreement, its owner and chief executive officer, Burton is individually liable for $200,000 of the settlement amount.  The balance of more than $1 million will be paid by Harmony.  As part of the settlement, Harmony and Burton will enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to address the allegations raised in the qui tam complaint.  Together, Singletary and Fulton will receive $244,529.87 as their share of the government’s recovery.

Whistleblowers Key Prosecutorial Tool

The approximately $2 million paid out to whistleblowers under these two settlements drives home the growing importance that current or former employees, officers or other insiders increasingly play in federal and state health care fraud prosecutions. Whistleblowers like Ferrare, Singletary and Fulton are increasingly common and valuable tools that the federal government uses to find and prosecute alleged health care fraud.  By promoting the availability of qui tam and other recoveries and broadly advertising their payment, federal prosecutors and investigators are priming the pump for future investigations and prosecution. See also Nextcare Inc. $10 Million False Claims Act Settlement Shows Qui Tam Role In False Claims Act Prosecutions; Oklahoma’s Harmon Memorial Hospital, Physician Pay $1.5M Qui Tam Health Care Fraud Settlement.

The two settlements also show the growing zealousness of the federal war on health care fraud.  Both cases were investigated by the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009.

The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover more than $10.1 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $13.9 billion.  Federal officials have and continue to rack up an ever-increasing list of civil settlements and judgments using the False Claims Act and other civil enforcement tools.  See e.g., See, e.g., Feds Health Fraud Suit Against Psychiatrists Shows Risks Providers Run From Aggressive Referral or Billing Activities; Recent OIG Audit Reports Provide Insights Where Fraud Audits Likely To Look Next; Hospital Chain HCA Inc. Pays $16.5 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations That HospitalPharmas Face New Pressure To Put Patients Before Profits After GlaxoSmithKline Record $3 Billion Health Care Fraud, FDCA Conviction & Settlement.

In addition to the high dollar civil judgments and settlements recovered. by the HEAT Task Force, federal prosecutors also are racking up a growing list of criminal convictions and sentences.  See e.g., Health Care Providers Warned To Raise Defenses As Feds Charge 91 Individuals Bilked Medicare For Approximately $430 Million; Detroit-Area Doctor Charged for Role in Alleged $40 Million Medicare Fraud SchemeFive More Individuals Charged in Detroit for Alleged Roles in $24.7 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme; Baton Rouge Area Women Heading To Prison For DME Health Care Fraud Participation; Houston Man Gets 24 Month Prison Sentence For Anti-Kickback & Other Health Care Fraud Convictions.

For instance, along with the Morton Plan and Harmony civil settlements, the Justice Department also announced on November 20, 2012 that a registered nurse pleaded guilty November 20 and a former program coordinator pleaded guilty November 19 for their roles in a $63 million mental health care fraud scheme involving defunct health provider Health Care Solutions Network Inc. (HCSN) in Miami.  See here.

These and other investigations and enforcement actions show that health care providers, their owners, officers, providers and other staff need to take seriously health care reimbursement, referral and other health care fraud and compliance responsibilities, as well as to carefully manage workforces to mitigate exposures to qui tam and other health care fraud exposures.

These activities are intended to send a strong message to health care providers that bill Medicare, Medicaid, or other public or private health care programs that they must be prepared to defend any charges billed to these or other federal health care programs and to defend their other business practices.

Providers Urged To Manage Risks

In response to these threats, health care providers should take steps to strengthen their billing, referral, audit, medical and other recordkeeping and other compliance and risk management practices to enhance their ability to defend or prevent these exposures.  While most providers already are moving to tighten these practices, the move to electronic health records, changing rules and other pressures are undermining the sufficiency of these efforts.  This investigation shows that beyond mere aggressive billing practices, federal officials also are targeting for enforcement physicians and other health care providers that participate in financial or other referral incentive or reward practices prohibited by the anti-kickback, STARK or other relevant law as well as the filing of Medicare, Medicaid or other health claims for undelivered, unnecessary or otherwise uncovered care or services. 

Amid these and other enforcement actions, all health industry players should exercise care to steer clear of activities that might violate federal health care fraud rules as well as consider whether corrective or other action might be necessary to address risks of prior activities that with the benefit of hindsight taking into account the current enforcement climate reflect potential exposures.  Providers should carefully monitor existing Medicare, Medicaid and other federal and state program reimbursement, terms of participation, reimbursement and other guidance; Office of Inspector General (OIG), Justice Department and other agency audit and enforcement activities and other developments that could impact on the defensibility of their billing, referral or other practices and tighten compliance and oversight as necessary to mitigate risks.

In the case of physicians and certain other professionals, these plans need to include both efforts to manage potential government investigation risks and management of their practices to mitigate peer review or other disciplinary or practice regulatory oversight that often arises when the practices and hospitals start tightening oversight and controls on practices as part of their own efforts to protect their organizations from fraud or other audits. 

While almost all health care providers can find room to improve their documentation and tighten other compliance, it also is important that providers also plan for how they will finance the cost of defending an audit or other investigation.  Often, the financial cost of defending these and other charges prevents physicians or other health care providers from lodging effective defenses of legitimate practices.  To help avoid this quagmire, providers generally will want to explore getting special liability coverage, indemnification or other protection as part of their planning arrangements.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help providing compliance or other training, 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish, audit, administer and defend billing, referral, privacy, staffing and recruitment 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. 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. She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. Contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail 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 available at here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see 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.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


Feds Health Fraud Suit Against Psychiatrists Shows Risks Providers Run From Aggressive Referral or Billing Activities

November 16, 2012

A civil lawsuit seeking millions of dollars of damages  from a Chicago-area psychiatrist provides a clear warning to physicians and other health care providers of the significant potential legal risks that can arise if they improperly receive compensation or other perks for participating in conferences, prescribing treatments or engage in other arrangements that violate federal or state anti-kickback or other health care fraud laws.On November 15, 2012, the Justice Department sued Chicago-area psychiatrist Dr. Michael J. Reinstein in the Northern District of Illinois with receiving illegal kickbacks on at least 50,000 claims and filing at least 140,000 false Medicare and Medicare Claims for antipsychotic medications he prescribed for thousands of mentally ill patients in area nursing homes.  The suit against Dr. Michael J. Reinstein seeking triple damages under the False Claims Act, plus a civil penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 for each alleged false claim. See here.

The lawsuit involves Reinstein’s use of clozapine, a rarely-used medication that has serious potential side effects and is generally considered a drug of last resort, particularly for elderly patients. While clozapine has been shown to be effective for treatment-resistant forms of schizophrenia, it is also known to cause numerous side effects, including a potentially deadly decrease in white blood cells, seizures, inflamation of the heart muscle, and increased mortality in elderly patients.

According to the suit, 69-year old Reinstein has provided psychiatric medical services in the Chicago area since 1973. According to the lawsuit, Reinstein routinely prescribed antipsychotic and other psychiatric medications knowing that, because most of his patients are indigent nursing home residents, pharmacies dispensing the medications submitted claims to Medicaid, and beginning in 2006, to Medicare Part D. Reinstein also submitted Medicare and Medicaid claims for pharmacologic management of his patients, knowing that he did not engage in substantive evaluations of his patients’ medical and psychiatric conditions to properly manage their medications. Instead, he allegedly prescribed medications to his patients based on his receipt of kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies.

Prior to August 2003, Reinstein prescribed Clozaril, the trade name for clozapine manufactured by Novartis, and he often had more than 1,000 patients using the medication at any given time. For many years, Novartis paid Reinstein to promote Clozaril, the complaint alleges. After Novartis’ patent for Clozaril expired in 1998, Reinstein resisted pharmacy and drug company efforts to switch his patients to generic clozapine and he continued to be the largest prescriber of Clozaril to Medicaid recipients in the United States. In July 2003, Novartis notified Reinstein that was withdrawing its support for Clozaril, and ended the regular payments that it had been making to Reinstein. 

In August 2003, Reinstein finally agreed to switch his patients to generic clozapine manufactured by Miami-based IVAX Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the suit alleges, if IVAX agreed to pay Reinstein $50,000 under a one-year “consulting agreement;” pay his nurse to speak on behalf of clozapine; and fund a clozapine research study by a Reinstein-affiliated entity known as Uptown Research Institute. IVAX agreed and Reinstein immediately began switching his patients from Clozaril to IVAX’s clozapine. He quickly became the largest prescriber of generic clozapine in the country.

“Reinstein’s inordinate prescribing of clozapine stands in stark contrast to its extremely limited use by other physicians,” the lawsuit states. While generally only four percent of schizophrenia patients who were prescribed antipsychotics received clozapine, during the time Reinstein was alegedly accepting kickbacks from IVAX, more than 50 percent of his patients were prescribed IVAX’s clozapine. At one nursing home, Reinstein had 75 percent of the 400 residents on IVAX’s clozapine.

Between 2003 and 2006, the lawsuit charges Reinstein requested, and IVAX provided, additional direct and indirect benefits to Reinstein and his associates, including paying airfare, lodging, meals, and entertainment expenses for a pharmacy owner and spouse, Reinstein’s nurse, his accountant and spouse, his administrative assistant and spouse, and Reinstein and his wife to travel to IVAX’s headquarters in Miami. IVAX also paid for Reinstein and his entourage to go on a fishing trip, a boat cruise, and a golf outing; annual renewal of Reinstein’s $50,000 “consulting agreement;” and tickets to sporting events and free IVAX-manufactured medication for Reinstein’s personal use.

In January 2006, IVAX became a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Ltd., an Israeli company. About seven months before the merger, Reinstein began moving large numbers of his patients to a form of clozapine manufactured by a competitor of IVAX/Teva. In April 2006, Teva paid all expenses for Reinstein and his entourage to travel to Miami, including a $2,300 boat cruise, and at least two dinners costing more than $1,700 each. During this trip Teva employees asked Reinstein what the company could do to induce Reinstein to prescribe more clozapine, and Reinstein suggested that Teva hire an associate of his from Chicago, the lawsuit alleges. Teva agreed and in the months after the hiring Reinstein put several hundred patients back on Teva’s clozapine. From 2007 to 2009, the suit alleges, Teva and Reinstein entered into annual “speaker agreements” that resulted in Teva paying Reinstein more than $100,000.

Based on this alleged conduct, the suit charges Medicaid received and paid more than 100,000 false claims from various pharmacies for IVAX/Teva clozapine prescriptions written by Reinstein between August 2003 and July 2011 as a result of illegal kickbacks he solicited and received from IVAX and Teva. Between 2006 and July 2011, Medicare Part D received and paid more than 40,000 false claims involving similar kickback-induced prescriptions. Likewise, between August 2003 and July 2011, Reinstein allegedly submitted more than 40,000 false claims and received payment from Medicaid for purported pharmacologic management, as well as more than 10,000 similar false claims to Medicare.

This lawsuit is one a growing list of civil and criminal investigations and enforcement actions by federal and state prosecutors targeting health care providers using expanded health care fraud laws and investigatory and prosecutorial powers granted under the Affordable Care Act and other legislation to help bring down health care costs. 

Through these and other flashy prosecutions, as well as a continuous campaign of audits and other activities, federal officials are trying to reduce Medicare and other health care expenditures, both by prosecuting health care providers for intentionally submitting false claims, as well as using the treat of audits, program, disqualification or civil or criminal prosecution to scare health care providers to reduce legitimate billings that could trigger a federal audit or other federal scrutiny. 

Federal officials are aided in these efforts by an arsenal of new health care fraud statistical profiling and other health care fraud detection and enforcement tools granted by Congress in recent years that make it easier for federal officials to target and successfully prosecute or bring other sanctions against health care providers whose billing or other business practices come under scrutiny. 

Coupled with the ever-lengthening list of civil settlements and civil monetary penalties, program disqualifications, and audits, Federal officials use high profile criminal sweeps like those announced today both to send a message to health care providers generally, and as a tool to pressure and encourage health care providers to accept settlements proposed by federal auditors and prosecutors to avoid the potential threat of more serious criminal, civil or administrative prosecutions. 

These activities are intended to send a strong message to health care providers that bill Medicare, Medicaid, or other public or private health care programs that they must be prepared to defend any charges billed to these or other federal health care programs and to defend their other business practices. 

In response to these threats, health care providers should take steps to strengthen their billing, referral, audit, medical and other recordkeeping and other compliance and risk management practices to enhance their ability to defend or prevent these exposures.  While most providers already are moving to tighten these practices, the move to electronic health records, changing rules and other pressures are undermining the sufficiency of these efforts.  This investigation shows that beyond mere aggressive billing practices, federal officials also are targeting for enforcement physicians and other health care providers that participate in financial or other referral incentive or reward practices prohibited by the anti-kickback, STARK or other relevant law as well as the filing of Medicare, Medicaid or other health claims for undelivered, unnecessary or otherwise uncovered care or  services. 

Amid these and other enforcement actions, all health industry players should exercise care to steer clear of activities that might violate federal health care fraud rules as well as consider whether corrective or other action might be necessary to address risks of prior activities that with the benefit of hindsight taking into account the current enforcement climate reflect potential exposures. 

In the case of physicians and certain other professionals, these plans need to include both efforts to manage potential government investigation risks and management of their practices to mitigate peer review or other disciplinary or practice regulatory oversight that often arises when the practices and hospitals start tightening oversight and controls on practices as part of their own efforts to protect their organizations from fraud or other audits. 

While almost all health care providers can find room to improve their documentation and tighten other compliance, it also is important that providers also plan for how they will finance the cost of defending an audit or other investigation.  Often, the financial cost of defending these and other charges prevents physicians or other health care providers from lodging effective defenses of legitimate practices.  To help avoid this quagmire, providers generally will want to explore getting special liability coverage, indemnification or other protection as part of their planning arrangements.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help providing compliance or other training, 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish, audit, administer and defend billing, referral, privacy, staffing and recruitment 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. 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/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. Contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail 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:

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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.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved


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