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Recent News Regarding HIPAA Violation Breach Cases

The actual breach violations below solidify the requirement for your medical answering service to be 100% HIPAA compliant. Please read carefully!

 

December 2014 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office for Civil Rights BULLETIN:

HIPAA Settlement Underscores the Vulnerability of Unpatched and Unsupported Software Anchorage Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) has agreed to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR). ACMHS will pay $150,000 and adopt a corrective action plan to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program. ACMHS is a five-facility, nonprofit organization providing behavioral health care services to children, adults, and families in Anchorage, Alaska.

OCR opened an investigation after receiving notification from ACMHS regarding a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI) affecting 2,743 individuals due to malware compromising the security of its information technology resources. OCR’s investigation revealed that ACMHS had adopted sample Security Rule policies and procedures in 2005, but these were not followed. Moreover, the security incident was the direct result of ACMHS failing to identify and address basic risks, such as not regularly updating their IT resources with available patches and running outdated, unsupported software.

“Successful HIPAA compliance requires a common sense approach to assessing and addressing the risks to ePHI on a regular basis,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. “This includes reviewing systems for unpatched vulnerabilities and unsupported software that can leave patient information susceptible to malware and other risks.” ACMHS cooperated with OCR throughout its investigation and has been responsive to technical assistance provided to date. In addition to the $150,000 settlement amount, the agreement includes a corrective action plan and requires ACMHS to report on the state of its compliance to OCR for a two-year period.

The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/index.html

The HHS Office for Civil Rights and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology offer a Security Rule Risk Assessment Tool to assist organizations that handle protected health information in conducting a regular review of the administrative, physical and technical safeguards they have in place to protect the security of the information. The tool is available at: http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/security-risk-assessment

To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on how to file a complaint, visit us at http://www.HHS.gov/OCR

Follow us on Twitter @HHSOCR.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 26, 2013

Contact: HHS Press Office 
(202) 690-6343

Dermatology practice settles potential HIPAA violations

Adult & Pediatric Dermatology, P.C., of Concord, Mass., (APDerm) has agreed to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy,  Security, and Breach Notification Rules with the Department of Health and Human Services, agreeing to a $150,000 payment. APDerm will also be required to implement a corrective action plan to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program.  APDerm is a private practice that delivers dermatology services in four locations in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire. This case marks the first settlement with a covered entity for not having policies and procedures in place to address the breach notification provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

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

“As we say in health care, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “That is what a good risk management process is all about – identifying and mitigating the risk before a bad thing happens.  Covered entities of all sizes need to give priority to securing electronic protected health information.”

In addition to a $150,000 resolution amount, the settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring AP Derm to develop a risk analysis and risk management plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities, as well as to provide an implementation report to OCR.

To learn more about nondiscrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.HHS.gov/OCR.

The resolution agreement can be found on the OCR website athttp://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/apderm-agreement.html.

 


HHS investigating HIPAA violation at Pa. 911 dispatch center

Author Name Patrick Ouellette | Date March 27, 2013 |
Tagged: Administrative Safeguards, Health Data Breach, Health Data Encryption, Health Data Security, HIPAA, Patient Data Security Policy, PHI, Physical Safeguards, Technical Safeguards

The Monroeville, Pa. 911 dispatch center is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) due to an August 2012 HIPAA violation. In addition to a complaint that the center emailed protected health information (PHI) to a former police chief, patient data was exposed to non-authorized Monroeville employees.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that one of the center’s databases had generic user names and passwords that allowed unauthorized users from five fire stations to easily access patient medical records from late 2011 to August 2012 with relative anonymity. (Monroeville police department and dispatch center apparently now only have access to the data.) The compromised information depended on the emergency call type, but may have included names, driver’s license numbers, birth dates and medical histories.

While Monroeville says that it will hire privacy and security professionals to help handle the investigation, the breadth of potentially-affected patients is alarming. The breach goes further than just former Monroeville police Chief George Polnar receiving patient data.

“Anyone who has called the police, called the fire department, used our [emergency medical service]” or was transferred to or from a Monroeville hospital could be affected by the breach, Monroeville manager Lynette McKinney said to the Post-Gazette.

An Office for Civil Rights (OCR) letter obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stipulates that the Monroeville 911 dispatch center has 30 days from when the letter was sent on March 21 to conduct the investigation. The OCR requested documentation of any internal investigations of the allegations, steps taken to address the matter and Monroeville’s privacy policies to help determine whether it violated HIPAA privacy, breach notification and security rules. If the center doesn't go along with the investigation or there was “willful neglect”, it could take as much as a $1.5 million hit.

Story: http://healthitsecurity.com/2013/03/27/hhs-investigating-hipaa-violation-at-pa-911-dispatch-center/

 

 

Idaho State University Settles HIPAA Security Case for $400,000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE HHS Press Office

News Release

Idaho State University (ISU) has agreed to pay $400,000 to the U.S. Department of Health Human Services (HHS) to settle alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule.  The settlement involves the breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 17,500 patients at ISU’s Pocatello Family Medicine Clinic.

ISU operates 29 outpatient clinics and is responsible for providing health information technology systems security at those clinics. Between four and eight of those ISU clinics are subject to the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, including the clinic where the breach occurred.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation after ISU notified HHS of the breach in which the ePHI of approximately 17,500 patients was unsecured for at least 10 months, due to the disabling of firewall protections at servers maintained by ISU. OCR’s investigation indicated that ISU’s risk analyses and assessments of its clinics were incomplete and inadequately identified potential risks or vulnerabilities.  ISU also failed to assess the likelihood of potential risks occurring.  

OCR concluded that ISU did not apply proper security measures and policies to address risks to ePHI and did not have procedures for routine review of their information system in place, which could have detected the firewall breach much sooner.

“Risk analysis, ongoing risk management, and routine information system reviews are the cornerstones of an effective HIPAA security compliance program,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “Proper security measures and policies help mitigate potential risk to patient information.”

ISU has agreed to a comprehensive corrective action plan to address the issues uncovered by the investigation and its failure to ensure uniform implementation of required HIPAA Security Rule protections at each of its covered clinics.

The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at:http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/isu-agreement.html

 

WellPoint pays HHS $1.7 million for leaving information accessible over Internet

The managed care company WellPoint Inc. has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $1.7 million to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.

This case sends an important message to HIPAA-covered entities to take caution when implementing changes to their information systems, especially when those changes involve updates to Web-based applications or portals that are used to provide access to consumers’ health data using the Internet.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began its investigation following a breach report submitted by WellPoint as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act. The HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information.

The report indicated that security weaknesses in an online application database left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet.

OCR’s investigation indicated that WellPoint did not implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards as required under the HIPAA Security Rule.

The investigation indicated WellPoint did not:

  • adequately implement policies and procedures for authorizing access to the on-line application database
  • perform an appropriate  technical evaluation in response to a software upgrade to its information systems
  • have technical  safeguards in place to verify the person or entity seeking access to electronic protected health information maintained in its application database. 

As a result, beginning on Oct. 23, 2009, until Mar. 7, 2010, the investigation indicated that WellPoint impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 612,402 individuals by allowing access to the ePHI of such individuals maintained in the application database. This data included names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and health information.

Whether systems upgrades are conducted by covered entities or their business associates, HHS expects organizations to have in place reasonable and appropriate technical, administrative and physical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information – especially information that is accessible over the Internet.

Beginning Sept. 23, 2013, liability for many of HIPAA’s requirements will extend directly to business associates that receive or store protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors.

Individuals who believe that a covered entity has violated their (or someone else’s) health information privacy rights or committed another violation of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rule may file a complaint with OCR at:http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/complaints/index.html.

The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at:http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/wellpoint-agreement.html

 

HHS settles with health plan in photocopier breach case

Under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Affinity Health Plan, Inc. will settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules for $1,215,780.  Affinity Health Plan is a not-for-profit managed care plan serving the New York metropolitan area.

Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act. The HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information.  Affinity indicated that it was informed by a representative of CBS Evening News that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity.  CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.

Affinity estimated that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by this breach. OCR’s investigation indicated that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.  In addition, the investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information (ePHI) stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents. 

"This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent," said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”

In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all ePHI.

For more information on safeguarding sensitive data stored in the hard drives of digital copiers: http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus43-copier-data-security. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued guidance on media sanitation: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-88-rev1/sp800_88_r1_draft.pdf. OCR offers free training on compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules for continuing medical education credit athttp://www.medscape.org/sites/advances/patients-rights.

The HHS Resolution Agreement and CAP can be found on the OCR website athttp://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/affinity-agreement.html

 

 

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