Category: HIPAA



Three Separate OCR Settlements Resulting from Hospital Failures to Obtain Patient Authorization for Use of Protected Health Information Before Filming Television Docuseries

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The Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced three separate settlements with Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), respectively, over potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule totaling $999,000. According to the settlements, the potential violations were the result of the alleged disclosure of patient protected health information (PHI) to ABC News employees during the production and filming of the docuseries called  “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” at each hospital.

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Continued Special Privacy Treatment for Substance Use Disorder Information

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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (OCRA) – a bipartisan package of more than 40 proposals designed to help families and entire communities affected by the nation-wide opioid crisis.

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New York Attorney General Penalizes Health Plan for Widespread Disclosure of Social Security Numbers

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New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a $575,000 settlement with EmblemHealth and its subsidiary, Group Health Incorporated, (together, “EmblemHealth”) after EmblemHealth admitted a mailing error that resulted in the disclosure of 81,122 social security numbers.  EmblemHealth is one of the largest health plans in the United States.

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New Initiative Examines Ethics of Research Using ‘Pervasive’ Data

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Data – big or small – has tremendous potential for use (and misuse).  For example, using mobile apps to keep track of one’s own physical activity or caloric intake may empower individuals to improve their health.  Should other parties (e.g., that app’s developer, physician, employer, insurance company, online friends) be able to access the same information, and if so, under what conditions? As another example, expressing one’s own feelings and preferences on a social media platform may strengthen bonds within a professional community or a family group, expedite academic collaborations, and/or improve an individual’s sense of belonging.  However, may those same messages – freely expressed in a public domain – be re-purposed for a study of mental health trends or for marketing strategies; and if so – when/how/by whom, or why/why-not?  Questions like these touch on a host of ethical and legal issues that only recently began to be explored in depth, even as new norms of individual behavior, human interactions, and treatment of data are evolving.     

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Involuntary Dissolution Does Not Absolve Business Associate of HIPAA Obligations

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A receiver appointed to liquidate the assets of Filefax, Inc. has agreed to pay $100,000 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in a no-fault settlement regarding potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Filefax, an entity involuntarily dissolved by the Illinois Secretary of State in August 2017, previously provided services to HIPAA covered entities, including storage, maintenance, and delivery of medical records.  On February 10, 2015, OCR received an anonymous complaint alleging that an individual had transported medical records obtained from Filefax to a shredding and recycling facility to sell on February 6 and 9, 2015.  OCR investigated the matter and confirmed that an individual had left medical records that contained the protected health information (PHI) of approximately 2,150 patients at the shredding and recycling facility.  OCR’s investigation indicated that Filefax had either left the PHI in an unlocked truck in its parking lot or granted permission to an unauthorized person to remove the PHI from Filefax, and left the PHI unsecured outside of the Filefax facility.

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OCR Kick Starts 2018 with Severe $3.5 Million HIPAA Settlement and Corrective Action Plan

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Fresenius Medical Center North America (FMCNA) agreed to pay $3.5 million to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and adopt a two-year comprehensive corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The no-fault resolution agreement states that FMCNA reported five separate incidents that occurred between February 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012 at five distinct FMCNA facilities (FMCNA Covered Entities).  FMCNA provides centralized corporate support to the FMCNA Covered Entities, including storing patient’s medical records, creating and disseminating HIPAA policies and procedures, and investigating the circumstances surrounding each breach reported to it by the FMCNA Covered Entities.

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