The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently issued its Summer 2021 Cybersecurity Newsletter, which focuses on controlling access to electronic personal health information (ePHI) and the HIPAA Security Rule standards. Citing to a recent report of security incidents and data breaches in the health care
Fifth Circuit Overturns “Arbitrary and Capricious” $4.3 Million HIPAA Penalty Against Hospital
On January 14, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a $4.348 million penalty for alleged HIPAA violations assessed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) against the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Hospital). The case arises from an enforcement action undertaken by HHS following the…
OCR Issues Five New HIPAA FAQs on Health Information Apps
On April 18, 2019, the Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued five new FAQs addressing the applicability of HIPAA to the use of software applications (apps) by individuals to receive health information from their providers.
The new FAQs are available here under the Header “Access Right, Apps and APIs.”…
Texas Health System MD Anderson Seeks 5th Circuit Review of HHS Determination that HIPAA Required Encryption of its ePHI
On April 8, 2019, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDA) filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit seeking review of a decision by the Department of Health & Human Services’s (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board (DAB) Appellate Division to uphold $4.35 million in civil money penalties (CMPs)…
OCR Issues Guidance on Disposing Electronic Data and Media
In its July newsletter on cybersecurity, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released “Guidance on Disposing of Electronic Devices and Media,” which outlines the requirements health care providers and business associates have regarding the security of electronic data and media under the HIPAA Security Rule.
The newsletter reminds health care providers and business associates that…
OCR Prevails with ALJ Against MD Anderson for $4.3 Million in HIPAA Fines and Penalties
It is a rare occurrence when a health care entity challenges the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding proposed fines and penalties for HIPAA violations. In my memory, it has only happened once before.
On June 1, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted summary judgment in favor of the OCR against The University of…
New Jersey AG Fines Virtua Medical Group $418,000 for Data Breach Caused by Vendor
The New Jersey Attorney General’s office announced this week that it has fined Virtua Medical Group, which is comprised of more than 50 medical practices in New Jersey, for failing to protect the privacy of 1,650 patients when their medical information was accessible online.
The information was uploaded to a password-protected FTP website, but during…
Fresenius Pays OCR $3.5M for Five Separate Data Breaches Affecting a Total of 521 Individuals
In the first settlement for HIPAA violations in 2018, Fresenius Medical Care North America (Fresenius) has agreed to pay $3.5 million to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to settle allegations against it relating to five data breaches that occurred over a four month period in 2012. Interestingly, the five separate breaches affected the information…
OCR Settles First Case With Wireless Provider for $2.5 Million
Touted as the first OCR settlement with a wireless health services provider, the OCR announced on April 24, 2017, that it has settled alleged HIPAA violations with CardioNet, based in Pennsylvania for $2.5 million.
CardioNet self-reported a data beach in January 2012, stating that an unencrypted laptop of one of its employees was stolen from a vehicle parked outside the employee’s home. (Again? Don’t get us started on why employees STILL have unencrypted laptops in their cars.)
The laptop contained the ePHI of 1,391 individuals who received mobile monitoring and response for cardiac arrhythmias by CardioNet. Since the breach involved more than 500 individuals, the OCR conducted an investigation. It alleges that as a result of the investigation, it found that CardioNet “had an insufficient risk analysis and risk management processes in place” and that the HIPAA Security Rule policies and procedures were in draft form and had not been implemented. Further, according to the OCR, CardioNet “was unable to produce any final policies or procedures regarding the implementation of safeguards for ePHI, including those for mobile devices.”…
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OCR Levies Hefty Fine Against FQHC
Showing no signs of letting up on enforcement actions, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) late last week settled an investigation against Metro Community Provider Network MCPN, a Colorado based federally qualified health center, for alleged HIPAA violations. The fine, a whopping $400,000 for the center, which provides health care services to low income patients, settled alleged HIPAA violations of failing to “conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of ePHI…and to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level.”
The problem is that OCR has never provided guidance on what this phrase means. What qualifies in its opinion as an “accurate and thorough assessment?” What are security measures that are “reasonable and appropriate?” The terms are inherently subjective and could move with the facts or the particular OCR investigator.
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