New HIPAA Settlement Highlights Internet Applications Safeguards, Whistleblower & Management Oversight Compliance Risks

July 10, 2015

Health care providers, health insurers, group health plans and health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities), their business associates and their leaders need to ensure the adequacy of the security of internet portals and applications used to create, use, access or disclose protected health information (PHI) and should establish and administer ongoing procedures to monitor and maintain adequate PHI security on an ongoing basis in light of a new Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rule (“HIPAA Rules”) Resolution Agreement with St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center (SEMC) announced today (July 10, 2015) by the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Concurrently, the Resolution Agreement also reaffirms the growing involvement of employees and other workforce members as HIPAA “whistleblowers” as well as the need for Covered Entities, business associates and their leaders to ensure that they include and administer documented requirements for board reporting and oversight in their HIPAA compliance and risk management activities.

To settle OCR charges that the Brighton, Massachusetts’s based hospital system violated the HIPAA Rules resulting from OCR’s investigation of a November 16, 2012 complaint made to OCR by SEMC workforce members, SEMC has agreed to pay $218,400 and to implement a “robust corrective action plan” to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA security and other compliance revealed in the investigation.

According to OCR, OCR opened the investigation after employees complained to OCR  that SEMC violated  HIPAA by allowing workforce members to use an internet-based document sharing application to share and store documents containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) of at least 498 individuals without having analyzed the risks associated with such a practice. According to OCR, its investigation of the complaint revealed among other things that:

  • SEMC improperly disclosed the PHI of at least 1,093 individuals;
  • SEMC failed to implement sufficient security measures regarding the transmission of and storage of ePHI to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level; and
  • SEMC failed to timely identify and respond to a known security incident, mitigate the harmful effects of the security incident, and document the security incident and its outcome. Separately, on August 25, 2014, SEMC submitted notification to HHS OCR regarding a breach of unsecured ePHI stored on a former SEMC workforce member’s personal laptop and USB flash drive, affecting 595 individuals. A review of detailed corrective action plan imposed under the Resolution Agreement provides helpful insights about some of the steps that OCR is likely to expect Covered Entities and business associates to take to meet its security expectations for internet applications and portals. Beyond imposing a $218,400 penalty (“Resolution Amount”) against SEMC, the Resolution Agreement requires among other things that SEMC in accordance with the Resolution Agreement and to OCR satisfaction.

In announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels sent a clear message to Covered Entities and their business associates to confirm and maintain the adequacy of security of internet portals and applications used in connection with PHI. “Organizations must pay particular attention to HIPAA’s requirements when using internet-based document sharing applications,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. “In order to reduce potential risks and vulnerabilities, all workforce members must follow all policies and procedures, and entities must ensure that incidents are reported and mitigated in a timely manner.”

  • To self-assess the adequacy of its policies and workforce and operations compliance with HIPAA including conducting unannounced audits of SEMC workforce members’ familiarity and compliance with SEMC policies and procedures on transmitting ePHI using unauthorized networks; storing ePHI on unauthorized information systems, including unsecured networks and devices; removal of ePHI from SEMC; prohibition on sharing accounts and passwords for ePHI access or storage; encryption of portable devices that access or store ePHI; security incident reporting related to ePHI;
  • The adequacy of workforce compliance with these policies by conducting unannounced site visits to various SEMC departments, inspections of certain laptops, smartphones, storage media and other portable devices as well as on workstations and other devices containing ePHI;
  • To identify and report to OCR any material compliance issues with the policies and recommendations for improving these policies and procedures, oversight and supervision, or training;
  • Develop and implement to OCR satisfaction corrections to policies, practice and training along with oversight mechanisms reasonably tailored to ensure that all SEMC workforce members follow such policies and procedures, and only use and disclose ePHI appropriately;
  • Collect and retain for OCR review and approval certain documentation of compliance; and
  • Conduct documented investigations of potential violations, redress and report to OCR about investigations and violations.

First, management should take special note that members of the SEMC workforce made the complaint to OCR that prompted OCR’s investigation.

As in other health care compliance areas, required workforce training coupled with HIPAA’s anti-retaliation and whistleblower protections provide encouragement if not incentives for disgruntled or well-meaning employees or other workforce members and business partners of covered entities or business associates make complaints about suspected HIPAA or other compliance concerns internally or to OCR. Management needs to take appropriate steps to ensure that its policies and processes include appropriate privacy and human resources procedures to manage both its HIPAA compliance obligations and potential retaliation and other human resources exposures that can result if these concerns are mishandled.   Employee & Other Whistleblower Complaints Common Source of HIPAA Privacy & Other Complaints.  Effective health plan and employer HIPAA and human resources compliance, reporting internal investigation and risk management policies and practices are critical to manage both HIPAA and other compliance exposures and the retaliation and other human resources risks that inevitably arise when employees or other workforce members or business partners raise compliance concerns or participate in compliance investigations internally or externally.

Second, the Resolution Agreement also reflects the clear expectation that management of Covered Entities and business associates make compliance with HIPAA a priority. Consistent with its recent practice, the Resolution Agreement requires management oversight and accountability for ensuring compliance with the Resolution Agreement and HIPAA by requiring an officer to attest to the fulfillment of the requirements of the Resolution Agreement. This emphasis upon requiring leadership oversight and prioritization of HIPAA compliance tracks the broader general expectations regarding responsibilities for management and boards concerning compliance with HIPAA and other federal health care increasingly articulated by HHS and other federal agencies enforcing laws subject to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines like HIPAA, See e.g. Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight. While OCR officials have indicated that the need for officer attestation like that required by the Resolution Agreement may not be required in all cases, the inclusion of these requirements coupled with these other developments sends a strong message that Boards and other management should ensure that their processes include appropriate evidence and document retention of management oversight.

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, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 27 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, Department of Labor, IRS, 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.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here. You also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,” using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others 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. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources. Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

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.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


Former National Quality Forum Committee Co-Chair Pays $1M, Excluded From Medicare In Fraud Settlement

March 5, 2015

A former National Quality Forum Committee Safe Practices Co-Chair landed in hot water under the False Claims Act for receiving compensation to use his influence and position to influence safety practices standards.  Patient safety consultant Dr. Charles Denham, will pay $1 million to settle Justice Department allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by soliciting and accepting kickbacks while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee 2009 and 2010, according to a Justice Department announcement.   The consulting company Health Care Concepts Inc. and the research organization Texas Medical Institute of Technology, operated by Denham both also are parties to the settlement.

With physicians and other health care organizations increasingly stepping up involvement in credentialing organizations and government advisory and other task forces, the enforcement action highlights another area where health care organizations and their people need to be careful to avoid violations of the False Claims Act or other laws. The settlement illustrates both the need for health care providers participating in HHS or other government advisory or other consulting roles to carefully evaluate their compensation and other arrangements for  illegal remuneration or other prohibited elements in light of the continuing emphasis on and success of the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Justice in investigating and prosecuting arrangements they view as health care fraud under the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative announced in 2009.

The charges against Denham resolved by the settlement stem from payments he and his companies received while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee.  The Safe Practices Committee reviews, endorses and recommends standardized healthcare performance measures and practices.  The settlement resolves allegations that, under agreements entered into in 2008, Denham received monthly payments from CareFusion Corporation while serving as the co-chair of the Safe Practices Committee.  The Justice Department charged that Denham did not disclose to the committee, or any other individual or component of the National Quality Forum, that he was receiving payments from CareFusion while co-chairing the Committee and that Denham solicited and received these payments in exchange for influencing the recommendations of the National Quality Forum and for recommending, promoting and/or arranging for the purchase of CareFusion’s product, ChloraPrep, in violation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute.  The United States alleged that this conduct caused the submission of false or fraudulent claims for ChloraPrep to federal health care programs.

In addition to paying $1 million to the United States, Dr. Denham and his two businesses will be excluded from Medicare, Medicaid and all federal health programs as part of the settlement.

The settlement highlights another example of the widespread success HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies participating in the HEAT initiative in using the False Claims Act against doctors, hospitals and other health care providers and organizations.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department reports recovery of more than $23.8 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.   With HHS and the Justice Department claiming it recovers an average return of $8 for each $1 invested in health care fraud enforcement, the enforcement initiative is a key player in Federal efforts to control and reduce federal health care expenditures.  The Obama Administration tout the  success of these efforts to fuel Congressional and public support for continuation and expansion of these and other health care fraud enforcement efforts by HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies.

“Kickback schemes undermine the integrity of medical decisions, subvert the health marketplace and waste taxpayer dollars,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Doctors and other health care professionals who accept illegal inducements undermine the public’s trust in federal health care programs and will continue to be the focus of our enforcement efforts

Given the success of the programs and the HEAT agencies commitment to continuing their heavy-handed enforcement efforts, physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing, home health, durable medical equipment, and other health care providers and their leaders should stay ever diligent in their efforts to maintain compliance and other necessary defenses in anticipation of government scrutiny of their operations and activities.  As part of these efforts, health care providers and organizations serving on advisory task forces or committees to government agencies or to credentialing or standard settling organizations that provide input on regulatory, standard setting or other activities need to use special care to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are properly identified and disclosed and that the arrangements otherwise are structured and conducted to avoid violations of both the Anti-Kickback and other health care fraud laws and lobbying, conflict of interest and other laws, regulations and policies applicable to those activities.

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, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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, Department of Labor, IRS, 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.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others 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. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

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.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


State Exchange Problems Added ACA Threat Regardless of SCOTUS Decision In King v. Burwell

March 3, 2015

While most Americans are familiar with the well-publicized issues and higher than projected premium costs of coverage offered to Americans enrolling in health care coverage through the federal healthcare marketplace Healthcare.gov created under the health care reforms of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), many Americans are just beginning to recognize the growing problems and concerns emerging with state exchanges in those states that elected to enact their own exchange.  As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the challenge to the payment of ACA subsidies to individuals in states that elected not to adopt a state-run health care exchangeto pay for coverage purchased through the federal healthcare.gov marketplace in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the growing evidence of rapidly emerging funding and other challenges affecting state-run exchanges raise concerns about the solvency and reliability of coverage promised and purchased through those state-run exchanges.  These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.

During the Congressional debates leading up to the enactment of ACA, for instance, ACA advocates touted the Massachusetts health care mandates and reform law of Massachusetts as part of the model for ACA and evidence of the potential benefits offered by enactment of ACA.  Now Massachusetts officials are blaming ACA for serious underfunding and other problems in their state’s health care connector.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently cited the Health Connector and its challenges in enrolling Massachusetts residents in health insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act that forced the state to temporarily transition hundreds of thousands of state residents into the commonwealth’s Medicaid program as a primary reason for the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget deficit.  He now has asked for the resignations of four Massachusetts Health Connector board members:  MIT professor Jonathan Gruber,  Covered California actuarial consultant John Bertko; Massachusetts Nonprofit Network CEO Rick Jakious and Spring Insurance Group CEO George Conser.

The Massachusetts experience is not unique.  Other states also are experiencing significant funding and other problems dealing with the ACA mandates and implementation.  See, e.g.,  Funding Woes Imperil Future of State Run Exchanges;  State Insurance Exchanges Face Challenges In Offering Standardized Choices Alongside Innovative Value-Based Insurance.

This mounting evidence of serious cost, financing and other concerns in state-run exchanges creates new reason for concern about the future of ACA’s health care reforms even for those citizens of states whose eligibility for subsidies is not challenged by the King v. Burwell Supreme Court challenge.   These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.These and other budget overruns and operational challenges raise serious questions about the ability of the federal government or the states to fund the promises currently made by ACA in its present form.  Congress and state governments almost certainly will be forced to deal with these broader challenges regardless of the outcome of King v. Burwell.   As American leaders continue to struggle to deal with these and other mounting problems impacting the U.S. health care system, the input of individual Americans and businesses and community leaders is more critical than ever.  Get involved in helping to shape improvements and solutions to the U.S. health care system and the Americans it cares for by sharing your ideas and input through the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy  and exchanging information and ideas for helping American families deal with their family member’s illnesses, disabilities and other healthcare challenges through Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment &  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

Do you have ideas or experiences to share about medical debit, ACA or other health care challenges?  Have ideas for helping improve ACA and other health care policies impacting the US health care system, helping Americans cope with these and other health care challenges or other health care matters? Know other helpful resources or experiences that you are willing to share?  Are you concerned about health care coverage or other health care and disability issues or policy concerns?  Join the discussion and share your input by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of

The Coalition and its Project COPE arise and operate on the belief that health care reform and policy must be patient focused, patient centric and patient empowering.  The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can. Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

You also may be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here such as:

 You also can find out about how you can arrange for training for you, your employees or other communities to participate in training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here.

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, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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, Department of Labor, IRS, 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 employers and their health and other employee benefit plans,  public and private health care providers, health insurers, plan fiduciaries and service providers, 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.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others 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. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

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.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Health Care Employer’s Discrimination Triggers Medicare, EEOC Prosecutions

March 2, 2015

Health care employers and organizations should review and tighten their employment and other discrimination policies and risk management in light of recent employment discrimination enforcement actions targeting health care organization staffing decisions by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

OCR Race Discrimination Medicare Action

A new OCR Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Shiawassee County Medical Facility reminds health care providers of the frequently underappreciated Medicare/Medicaid program participation risks of certain types of employment discrimination to be careful not to allow patient preferences to lead them into the trap of violating the prohibition against race, color, and national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other federal nondiscrimination laws when making patient staffing assignments.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the administration of any federally-funded program based on race, color, or national origin.   OCR’s longstanding “Guidelines for Compliance of Hospitals with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” make clear that OCR interprets Title VI prohibits assignment of hospital staff based on the racial preference of the patient.

A newly announced OCR investigation and Resolution Agreement Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, illustrates the need for Medicare and Medicaid certified health care providers of all types to ensure their compliance with Title VI and, in particular, to refrain from making any staff assignments based on racial considerations.

The Resolution Agreement between OCR and Shiawassee, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, resolved charges that the facility violated Title VI by giving a nursing staff instruction to not assign African-American staff to a Caucasian Resident. Based on an investigation, OCR found Shiawassee needed to change its policies and procedures to bring them into full compliance with Title VI.  To implement fully the prohibition against consideration of race in staff assignments, Shiawassee signed a with OCR which calls for the appointment of a Title VI Coordinator to oversee Shiawassee’s overall compliance with Title VI including special responsibilities for the investigation and adjudication of any Title VI complaints filed internally with Shiawassee.  In addition, Shiawassee must train its workforce on Title VI, and submit reports to OCR regarding compliance.

The Shiawassee charges and Resolution agreement follow a similar Agreement in August 2014 between OCR and Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan , which also resolved OCR charges arising from that facilities staff assignment based on a patient’s racial preference.  Read the Hurley Agreement here.

Phoenix EEOC ADA Discrimination Action

The HHS against Shiawassee enforcement action coincides with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announcement of its filing of disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) against another health care provider, ValleyLife of Phoenix, Arizona. EEOC charges that ValleyLife engaged in illegal disability discrimination in violation of the ADA when it allegedly fired employees with disabilities instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations when their eligibility for family leave ended under the Family & Medical Leave Act ended and allegedly failed to keep employees’ medical records confidential.  See EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS (N.Az).

In EEOC v. ValleyLife,  the EEOC charges that ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy.  The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).   According to the EEOC, ValleyLife fired supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave eligibility ended.  EEOC claims this termination violated the ADA because ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible.  Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination.  The EEOC contends that ValleyLife’s failure to offer extended leave or other accommodation to Stephens when his leave eligibility ended violated the ADA, which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.

The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the medical record confidentiality requirements of the ADA, which requires employees’ to keep medical documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.

The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensa­tory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.

Prepare Employment Discrimination Defenses

The OCR action against Shiawassee and the EEOC suit against ValleyLife remind health industry employers of the need to use care to monitor and manage employment discrimination risks.  Health care organizations should avoid the temptation to assume that their organizations can rely upon patient preferences or other common industry concerns to defend against claims of disability, race or other discrimination.  Instead, health care organizations should review and update their policies and practices to ensure that they properly comply with applicable employment and other federal and state disability discrimination law and are operationalized in a manner to create and keep appropriate documentation to defend staffing decisions against potential claims of illegal discrimination under the ADA, Civil Rights, or other laws that could adversely impact their organization’s eligibility to participate in Medicare, Medicaid or other federal programs, trigger judgments or penalties, or both.

Health care organizations also need to exercise care to ensure that their patient access, care and other policies also comply and are administered to withstand scrutiny under Medicare terms of participation, the ADA, the Civil Rights Act and other federal discrimination laws.   These health industry employers should both evaluate their existing policies and practices, as well as their processes for conducting and documenting investigations and other activities associated with the administration of FMLA or other disability accommodation, patient and other staffing and other activities to position their organization to identify potential exposures and position themselves to defend their decisions against OCR, EEOC or other government agency investigations, private plaintiff claims or both.

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, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, 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, Department of Labor, IRS, 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.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others 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. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

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.

©2015 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.


Hospital Will Pay $75K For Refusing To Hire Disabled Worker

March 10, 2014

Osceola Community Hospital Refused To Hire Child Care Worker With Cerebral Palsy Who Had Worked As Volunteer

Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley, Iowa will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for its refusal to hire a child care worker with cerebral palsy.  The case shows both the need for health care and other employers to have sufficient evidence to support decisions not to hire disabled workers for safety reasons as well as the potential risks that hospitals or other face when refusing to hire disabled individuals who have been allowed to work as volunteers in their organizations.

The EEOC charged a day care center operated by the hospital, Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, unlawfully failed to hire a volunteer employee into a paid position for which she was qualified because of her cerebral palsy.  Although the woman who brought the charge of discrimination against the hospital already volunteered in the day care center and held a job driving a school bus, the EEOC’s investigation revealed the county refused to hire her into a paying job in the center out of an unfounded fear that her disability meant that she could not safely care for the children.

Judge Mark Bennett entered a consent decree on February, 28, 2014, resolving the brought by the EEOC in EEOC v. Osceola Community Hospital d/b/a Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, Civil Action No. 5:12-cv-4087 (N.D. Iowa, Sept. 26, 2012 that orders Osceola Community Hospital to pay $75,000 to the discrimination victim.  The decree also requires the hospital to institute a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability and to distribute the policy to all of its employees.  The hospital also must train its employees and report regularly to the EEOC on its compliance with the ADA.

The lawsuit provides another example to health care and other employers of their growing exposure to disability discrimination claims under the ADA.  The EEOC action and lawsuit highlights the importance of employers ensuring that decisions to refuse to hire disabled workers for safety reasons are based upon appropriate evidence of actual safety concerns that prevent the worker from safely performing the assigned duties with or without reasonable accommodation.

The fact that the worker in this case had in fact worked as a volunteer likely created additional challenges in defending the decision.  The use of volunteer workers in health industry businesses is a common practice that may justify special care before those organizations deny employment to a former volunteer on the basis of safety concerns associated with the disabilities of the applicant or worker both to document the reasonable basis of the safety concern and that the concern could not be adequately resolved through reasonable accommodation.

Health Care Providers Must Strengthen Disability Compliance & Risk Management

Employment discrimination isn’t the only disability discrimination risk that hospitals and other health industry organizations need to worry about in today’s liability charged environment.  Enforcing federal discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration. The Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Justice, Housing & Urban Development, and others all have both increased enforcement, audits and public outreach, as well as have sought or are proposing tighter regulations.

The expanding applicability of nondiscrimination rules coupled with the wave of new policies and regulatory and enforcement actions should alert private businesses and state and local government agencies of the need to exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges under employment, Medicare, housing and a broad range of other laws.

The Obama Administration is targeting disability discrimination by health care organizations in a broad range of areas as part of its Barrier Free Health Care Initiative (Initiative).  Launched on the 22nd anniversary of the ADA in July 2012, the Initiative is a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and 40 U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation, that targets ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities.

Part of a broader enforcement initiative of the Obama Administration to enforce and expand federal protections for individuals with disabilities, the Initiative seeks to protect patients with disabilities against illegal disability discrimination by prosecuting health care providers under the ADA and the Rehab Act.

Section 504 of the Rehab Act requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs The ADA requirements extend most federal disability discrimination prohibits to health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.

In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.  The public accommodation provisions of the ADA, for instance, generally require those doctors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and other health care providers, as well as other covered businesses to provide people with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to goods, services, and facilities.  The ADA also may compel health care providers to adjust their practices for delivering care and/or providing access to facilities to accommodate special needs of disabled individuals under certain circumstances. Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

 The  Justice Departments campaign against disability discrimination by health care providers is supported and enhanced by the concurrent efforts of OCR.   Along side the Justice Department’s efforts, OCR recently has announced several settlement agreements and issued letters of findings as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with the Rehab Act and the ADA well as various other federal nondiscrimination and civil rights laws. Through its own antidiscrimination campaign, OCR is racking up an impressive list of settlements with health care providers, housing and other businesses for violating the ADA, Section 504 or other related civil rights rules enforced by OCR.   See, e.g. Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled.   Meanwhile, both the Justice Department and OCR also are encouraging victims of discrimination to enforce their rights through private action through educational outreach to disabled and other individuals protected by federal disabilities and other civil rights laws to make them aware of and to encourage them to act to enforce these rights.

Health Care Organizations & Providers Should Act To Manage Patient-Related Disability Discrimination Risks

Prosecutions and settlements by these and other federal agencies show the need for health care providers and other public and private organizations to strengthen their disability discrimination compliance and management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the Justice Department, OCR,  the EEOC and other agencies as well as private law suits.  Hospitals, health care clinics, physicians and other health care providers should take steps to guard against joining the growing list of health care providers caught in the enforcement sights of the Initiative by reviewing and updating practices, policies, training and oversight to ensure that their organizations can prevent and defend against charges of disability discrimination.

Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, the failure of health care organizations to effectively keep up processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

In light of the expanding readiness of the Justice Department, OCR, HUD, EEOC and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

To achieve and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance 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 24 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.

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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of 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 (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and help businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.  For additional information about upcoming programs, to explore becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship, to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: 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. All rights reserved.


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