On September 17, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a settlement with Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, Inc. (collectively, MEEI) for alleged violations of the HIPAA Security Rule.  Under the Resolution Agreement, MEEI agreed to pay $1.5 million to HHS and take corrective action to improve its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with HIPAA.

Continue Reading HHS Announces $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement with Massachusetts Provider

By Anna Kraus

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced yesterday that the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaska’s State Medicaid agency (Alaska Medicaid), has agreed to pay $1.7 million to HHS to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule.  This is HHS’s first HIPAA enforcement action against a State agency, and HHS stated in the press release that it “expect[s] organizations to comply with their obligations under [the HIPAA rules] regardless of whether they are private or public entities.”

HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began investigating Alaska Medicaid after receiving a breach report from the agency in October 2009.  The report indicated that a portable electronic storage device potentially containing electronic protected health information (e-PHI) was stolen from the vehicle of a computer technician employed by the State.  HHS subsequently determined through its investigation that Alaska Medicaid had not complied with HIPAA Security Rule requirements to:

  • complete a risk analysis;
  • implement sufficient risk management measures;
  • complete security training for its workforce members;
  • implement device and media controls; and
  • address device and media encryption.

Continue Reading Alaska Medicaid Agrees to Pay $1.7 Million to Settle HIPAA Security Case

By Anna Kraus

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Tuesday that Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. (Phoenix) agreed to pay $100,000 and implement a corrective action plan to come into full compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  HHS had been investigating the Arizona physician practice for potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.

The investigation began when HHS received a report that Phoenix was posting clinical and surgical appointments for patients on an Internet-based calendar that was accessible by the public.  Upon further investigation, HHS determined that the physician practice had, among other things, failed to:

  • implement appropriate and reasonable administrative and technical safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information (PHI)
  • identify a security officer and conduct the risk assessment required by the HIPAA Security Rule
  • enter into business associate agreements with its Internet-based calendar provider and Internet-based public e-mail provider
  • document that it trained any employees on HIPAA policies and procedures

Continue Reading HHS Settles HIPAA Case With Heart Surgery Center

By Anna Kraus

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the long-awaited final rule implementing changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.  The OMB has up to

By Anna Kraus

In a previous post, we highlighted two reports recently issued by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), which criticize HHS’s oversight of health information privacy and security.  In today’s post, we provide greater detail regarding one of those reports (Nationwide Rollup Review of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 Oversight).  We will delve into the second report in a forthcoming post.

The OIG’s Nationwide Rollup Review found that oversight by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) had been insufficient to ensure that hospitals and other covered entities have effectively implemented the HIPAA Security Rule.  Specifically, the OIG noted that although CMS had performed a limited number of covered entity compliance reviews, these reviews tended to be reactive rather than proactive.  According to the OIG, CMS relied primarily on education efforts and voluntary compliance to enforce the Security Rule rather than developing a structured compliance review process.

CMS was initially delegated authority to enforce compliance with the Security Rule in 2003 and published a final Security Rule that year.  Enforcement authority was subsequently transferred to the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2009.  OCR reports that it has a process in place to conduct proactive compliance reviews even in the absence of specific complaints.  However, the OIG appeared to question this assertion, stating that OCR had not produced evidence of reviews targeted at entities which had not been specifically flagged for scrutiny.  The OIG concluded by recommending that OCR continue the compliance review process begun by CMS and ensure that it provides for reviews in the absence of complaints.

Continue Reading OIG Finds CMS Oversight of the HIPAA Security Rule Insufficient to Ensure Covered Entity Compliance

By Anna Kraus

Last week, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two audit reports regarding federally mandated data security measures for health information.  Both reports are highly critical of HHS’s efforts to protect the security of electronic health information.

In the first report, available here