EmblemHealth Pays $100,000 HIPAA Violation Penalty to New Jersey for 2016 Data Breach

The health insurance provider EmblemHealth has been fined $100,000 by New Jersey for a 2016 data breach that exposed the protected health information (PHI) of more than 6,000 New Jersey plan members.

On October 3, 2016, EmblemHealth sent Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan Evidence of Coverage documents to its members.

The mailing labels included beneficiary identification codes and Medicare Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HCIN), which mirror Social Security numbers. The documents were sent to more than 81,000 policy members, 6,443 of whom were New Jersey residents.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs investigated the breach and identified policy, procedural, and training failures. Previous mailings of Evidence of Coverage documents were handled by a trained employee, but when that individual left EmblemHealth, mailing duties were handed to a team manager who had only been given minimal task-specific training and worked unsupervised.

That individual sent a data file to EmblemHealth’s mailing vendor without first removing HCINs, which resulted in the HCINs being printed on mailing labels: A violation of HIPAA, the New Jersey Identity Theft Prevention Act, and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

“Health insurers entrusted with their customers’ sensitive personal information have a duty to avoid improper disclosures,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “EmblemHealth fell short of its obligations to its customers in this case, and I am pleased that our settlement includes measures designed to prevent similar breaches at this company in the future.”

In addition to the financial penalty, EmblemHealth has agreed to make changes to its policies and procedures to prevent further breaches of plan members’ PHI. Those measures include the use of unique patient identifiers for mailings rather than HCINs or Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers.

EmblemHealth will also ensure that a formal transfer process takes place when the responsibilities of outgoing staff are passed on to other EmblemHealth employees or third parties, and that all necessary training will be provided.

All incoming employees will also be required to complete additional privacy and security training modules and refresher training sessions will be conducted annually. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs will be monitoring EmblemHealth over the next three years and must be informed of any further breaches of the PHI of New Jersey customers.

“This settlement should serve as a reminder that we are committed to safeguarding consumer privacy, and will hold accountable any businesses that are careless in the handling of such personal data,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.

New Jersey has been highly active as an enforcer of HIPAA Rules and has agreed four settlements in 2018 to resolve violations of HIPAA Rules. In addition to the EmblemHealth HIPAA fine, New Jersey has settled HIPAA violations with Best Transcription Medical ($200,000), Aetna ($365,211.59), and Virtua Medical Group ($417,816) in 2018.

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AMIA and AHIMA Call for Changes to HIPAA to Improve Access and Portability of Health Data

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) have called for changes to HIPAA to be made to improve patients’ access to their health information, make health data more portable, and to better protect health data in the app ecosystem.

At a Wednesday, December 5, 2018, Capitol Hill briefing session, titled “Unlocking Patient Data – Pulling the Linchpin of Data Exchange and Patient Empowerment,” leaders from AMIA and AHIMA joined other industry experts in a discussion about the impact federal policies are having on the ability of patients to access and use their health information.

Currently, consumers have access to their personal information and integrate and use that information to book travel, find out about prices of products and services from different providers, and conduct reviews and comparisons. However, while many industries have improved access to consumer information, the healthcare industry is behind the times and has so far failed to implement a comparable, patient-centric system.

“Congress has long prioritized patients’ right to access their data as a key lever to improve care, enable research, and empower patients to live healthy lifestyles,” said AMIA President and CEO Douglas B. Fridsma. “But enacting these policies into regulations and translating these regulations to practice has proven more difficult than Congress imagined.”

AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris said, “AHIMA’s members are most aware of patient challenges in accessing their data as they operationalize the process for access across the healthcare landscape… the language in HIPAA complicates these efforts in an electronic world.”

The P in HIPAA does stand for portability, yet patients are still struggling to obtain their health data in a usable form that allows them to share that information with other entities. Health data should be portable, as is the case with other types of consumer information. Changes to HIPAA legislation will help the healthcare sector catch up with other industries.

Changes to HIPAA Required to Support Access and Portability of Health Data

Both AMIA and AHIMA suggest HIPAA needs to be modernized to improve patient access to health data and two options were suggested. One option is the establishment of a new term – “Health Data Set” – that incorporates all data about a patient that is held by a HIPAA-covered entity or business associate, including clinical, biomedical, and claims information.

Alternatively, the definition of a Designated Record Set that is currently used in HIPAA legislation could be updated and for certified health IT to be required to provide that data set in electronic form and in a way that allows patients to use and reuse their data.

Both options would serve as a solution to the problem – The former would support a patient’s right to access their health data and also support the development of the ONC’s certification program in the future to allow patients to view, download, and electronically transmit their health data to third parties through an Application programming interface (API). The update to current record set definition would help to clarify rules for both providers and patients.

HIPAA Right of Access Should be Extended

AMIA and AHIMA also support the extension of the HIPAA individual right of access and amendment to entities that are not covered by HIPAA but manage individual health data: Entities such as companies that develop mHealth apps and health social media applications.

Similar data is created, stored, and transmitted by HIPAA-covered and non-HIPAA-covered entities, yet data access policies differ for both groups. There should be greater uniformity of data access, regardless of what type of entity collects and stores health data.

AMIA and AHIMA also suggest federal regulators should clarify current guidance related to third-party legal requests. “Health Information management (HIM) professionals continue to struggle with the existing Office for Civil Rights guidance that enables third-party attorneys to request a patient’s PHI,” explained AHIMA’s Wylecia Wiggs Harris. “AHIMA members increasingly face instances in which an attorney forwards a request for PHI on behalf of the patient but lacks the information required to validate the identity of the patient. As a result, the HIM professional is challenged as to whether to treat it as an authorization or patient access request, which has HIPAA enforcement implications.”

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12 State Attorneys General File HIPAA Breach Lawsuit Against Medical Informatics Engineering

A multi-state federal lawsuit has been filed against Medical Informatics Engineering and NoMoreClipboard over the 2015 data breach that exposed the data of 3.9 million individuals.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is leading the lawsuit and 11 other states are participating – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

This is the first time that state attorneys general have joined forces in a federal lawsuit over a data breach caused by violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The lawsuit seeks a financial judgement, civil penalties, and the adoption of a corrective action plan to address all compliance failures.

A Failure to Implement Adequate Security Controls

The lawsuit alleges Medical Informatics Engineering failed to implement appropriate security to protect its computer systems and sensitive patient data and, as a result of those failures, a preventable data breach occurred. According to the lawsuit, “Defendants failed to implement basic industry-accepted data security measures to protect individual’s health information from unauthorized access.”

The breach in question occurred between May 7 and May 26, 2015. Hackers were able to gain access to its WebChart electronic health record system and highly sensitive patient information – The exact types of data sought by identity thieves – Names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and health information.

Known Vulnerabilities Were Not Corrected

Medical Informatics Engineering had set two ‘tester’ accounts, one of which could be accessed with the username and password ‘tester’ and the other with the username and password ‘testing.’ Both accounts could be accessed remotely without the need for any further identification. The lawsuit alleges Medical Informatics Engineering was aware of the security issue as the accounts were identified as high risk by a third-party penetration testing firm, Digital Defense, in January 2015. Even though the accounts were high risk, Medical Informatics Engineering continued to use the accounts. The accounts were set up to enable one of its healthcare provider clients to login without having to use unique usernames and passwords.

While those accounts did not have privileged access, they did allow the hackers to gain a foothold in the network. Through those accounts the attackers conducted an SQL injection attack, which allowed them to gain access to other accounts with administrative privileges that were used to exfiltrate data.

Post-Breach Response Failures

While the initial attack and data exfiltration went unnoticed, a further attempt to exfiltrate data using malware caused network performance to slow to such an extent that an alarm was generated, alerting Medical Informatics Engineering that its systems had been compromised. While investigating the malware attack the attackers were still able to exfiltrate further data through SQL queries demonstrating the company’s post-breach response was “inadequate and ineffective.”

No Encryption or Employee Security Awareness Training

No encryption had been used to protect stored data and no security system had been implemented to alert Medical Informatics Engineering about possible hacking attempts. Had such a system been implemented, it would have been easy to identify unauthorized access as two of the IP addresses used by the attackers originated in Germany.

The lawsuit also alleges Medical Informatics Engineering had no documentation to confirm security awareness training had been provided to its employees prior to the data breach.

In addition to violations of HIPAA Rules, the lawsuit alleges Medical Informatics Engineering violated several state statutes relating to the protection of personal information, unfair and deceptive practices, and data breach notifications.

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OCR Fines Florida Contractor Physicians’ Group $500,000 for Multiple HIPAA Compliance Failures

An HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation into an impermissible disclosure of PHI by a business associate of a HIPAA-covered entity revealed serious HIPAA compliance failures.

Advanced Care Hospitalists (ACH) is a Lakeland, FL-based contractor physicians’ group that provides internal medicine physicians to nursing homes and hospitals in West Florida. ACH falls under the definition of a HIPAA-covered entity and is required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules. ACH serves approximately 20,000 patients a year and employed between 39 and 46 staff members per year during the time frame under investigation.

Between November 2011 and June 2012, ACH engaged the services of an individual who claimed to be a representative of Doctor’s First Choice billings Inc., a Florida-based provider of medical billing services. That individual used First Choice’s company name and website, but according to the owner of First Choice, those services were provided without the knowledge or permission of First Choice.

A local hospital notified ACH on February 11, 2014 that some patient information – including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and some clinical information – was viewable on the First Choice website. The website was shut down the following day.

In April 2014, ACH submitted a breach report to OCR about the impermissible disclosure of patients’ protected health information (PHI). Its breach report stated the PHI of 400 patients had been impermissibly disclosed, but later amended the breach report after it was discovered a further 8,855 patients’ PHI had also been impermissibly disclosed.

OCR investigated the breach and discovered that despite having been in operation since 2005, ACH did not implement any HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rule policies and procedures before April 1, 2014, and had failed to implement appropriate security measures. ACH also failed to conduct a risk analysis until March 4, 2014.

Even though PHI had been disclosed to the individual providing medical billing services, ACH failed to enter into a business associate agreement with that individual. As a result of the lack of a BAA, ACH impermissibly disclosed the PHI of 9,255 patients to a third party for billing processing services – PHI that was subsequently exposed online.

In addition to paying the $500,000 fine, ACH has agreed to implement a robust corrective action plan to correct all HIPAA compliance failures.

“This case is especially troubling because the practice allowed the names and social security numbers of thousands of its patients to be exposed on the Internet after it failed to follow basic security requirements under HIPAA,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.

The latest settlement is the ninth OCR HIPAA compliance penalty of 2018. $25,572,000 has been paid to OCR in 2018 to resolve compliance failures.

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AMIA Calls for Greater Alignment of Federal Data Privacy Rules

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) is calling for the Trump Administration to tighten data privacy rules through greater alignment of HIPAA and the Common Rule and adoption of a more integrated approach to privacy that includes both the healthcare sector and consumer sector.

The call follows a request for comment by the NTIA to initiate a conversation about consumer privacy. In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the Department of Commerce, AMIA explained that its comments are informed by extensive experience of dealing with both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Federal Protections for Human Subjects Research (Common Rule).

Currently, there is a patchwork of federal and state regulations that complicates compliance and creates information sharing challenges which results in ‘perverse outcomes’ due to different interpretations of existing privacy policies.

AMIA illustrated the problem of the current patchwork of privacy policies using Pennsylvania and New Jersey as an example. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are neighboring states, but they have different policies covering HIV/AIDS data. If an HIV/AIDS patient from Pennsylvania was to visit a hospital in New Jersey, information on their HIV/AIDS diagnosis would not be accessible by clinicians in New Jersey, even though the information has high importance in treatment decisions. The patient would also be unlikely to receive their data from the New Jersey hospital to take back to their healthcare provider in Pennsylvania.

“AMIA encourages the administration to ensure that federal rules lay a common foundation across jurisdictional and geographic boundaries while also providing a process for jurisdictions to address local needs and norms.”

In recent years there has been a significant increase in consumer devices and information systems that record similar information to medical devices and healthcare information systems. The line between the two has been blurred. Action is therefore required to develop concordant privacy policies across health and consumer data ecosystems.

HIPAA was introduced 22 years ago in 1996 at a time when healthcare organizations were predominantly using paper records. While HIPAA has been updated to account for the shift to electronic records, AMIA points out that the adoption of health-related technologies that were unavailable in 1996 has resulted in the formation of gaps that now endanger patient privacy.

The changes made to HIPAA through the introduction of the Privacy Rule have ensured that patients have access to their health data and greater control over what is done with that information. What is now required are similar rights and protections for consumers.

While AMA does not suggest that either HIPAA or the Common Rule should be applied to the consumer data ecosystem, both “should serve as important and informative inputs to [the] conversation on consumer data privacy.”

AMA has called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop a consumer data strategy that “Supports trust, safety, efficacy, and transparency across the proliferation of commercial and non-proprietary information resources,” and suggests that the time is right to develop an “ethical framework around the collection, use, storage, and disclosure of the personal information consumers may provide to organizations.”

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Do HIPAA Rules Create Barriers That Prevent Information Sharing?

The HHS has drafted a Request for Information (RFI) to discover how HIPAA Rules are hampering patient information sharing and are making it difficult for healthcare providers to coordinate patient care.

HHS wants comments from the public and healthcare industry stakeholders on any provisions of HIPAA Rules which are discouraging or limiting coordinated care and case management among hospitals, physicians, patients, and payors.

The RFI is part of a new initiative, named Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, the aim of which is to remove barriers that are preventing healthcare organizations from sharing patient information while retaining protections to ensure patient and data privacy are protected.

The comments received through the RFI will guide the HHS on how HIPAA can be improved, and which policies should be pursued in rulemaking to help the healthcare industry transition to coordinated, value-based health care.

The RFI was passed to the Office of Management and Budget for review on November 13, 2018. It is currently unclear when the RFI will be issued.

Certain provisions of HIPAA Rules are perceived to be barriers to information sharing. The American Hospital Association has spoken out about some of these issues and has urged the HHS to take action.

While there are certainly elements of HIPAA Rules that would benefit from an update to improve the sharing of patient health information, in some cases, healthcare organizations are confused about the restrictions HIPAA places on information sharing and the circumstances under which PHI can be shared with other entities without the need to obtain prior authorization from patients.

The feedback HHS is seeking will be used to assess what aspects of HIPAA are causing problems, whether there is scope to remove certain restrictions to facilitate information sharing, and areas of misunderstanding that call for further guidance to be issued on HIPAA Rules.

HIPAA does permit healthcare providers to share patients’ PHI with other healthcare providers for the purposes of treatment or healthcare operations without authorization from patients. However, there is some confusion about what constitutes treatment/healthcare operations in some cases, how best to share PHI, and when it is permissible to share PHI with entities other than healthcare providers. Simplification of HIPAA Rules could help in this regard, as could the creation of a safe harbor for good faith disclosures of PHI for the purposes of case management and care co-ordination.

While the HHS is keen to create an environment where patients’ health information can be shared more freely, the HHS has made it clear is that there will not be any changes made to the HIPAA Security Rule. Healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities will still be required to implement controls to ensure risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information are managed and reduced to a reasonable and acceptable level.

In addition to a general request for information, the HHS will specifically be seeking information on:

  • The methods of accounting of all disclosures of a patient’s protected health information
  • Patients’ acknowledgment of receipt of a providers’ notice of privacy practices
  • Creation of a safe harbor for good faith disclosures of PHI for purposes of care coordination or case management
  • Disclosures of protected health information without a patient’s authorization for treatment, payment, and health care operations
  • The minimum necessary standard/requirement.

While the RFI is likely to be issued, there are no guarantees that any of the comments submitted will result in HIPAA rule changes.

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$200,000 Settlement Agreed with Business Associate Behind Virtua Medical Data Breach

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has announced a $200,000 settlement has been agreed with Best Medical Transcription to resolve violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that were discovered during an investigation of a 2016 breach of 1,650 individuals’ protected health information.

Protected Health Information of 1,654 Patients Was Accessible Through Search Engines

Best Medical Transcription was a business associate of Virtua Medical Group, a network of medical and surgical practices in southern New Jersey. Best Medical Transcription was provided with dictated medical notes, letters, and reports which were transcribed for Virtua Medical Group physicians.

In January 2016, it was discovered that transcribed documents had been uploaded to File Transfer Protocol (FTP) website that was accessible over the Internet without the need for any authentication. The files had been indexed by Google and could be found using search terms including information contained in the files. Password-protection had been removed when software on the website was updated.

In total, 1,654 patients had their protected health information exposed. Affected patients were notified of the breach and Virtua Medical Group terminated its relationship with Best Medical Transcription. In 2017 Best Medical Transcription was dissolved.

The New Jersey attorney general and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs investigated the breach, and Virtua Medical Group was held accountable for failing to protect patients’ data. Virtua Medical Group settled with New Jersey for $417,816 in April 2018 to resolve the HIPAA violations and agreed to improve its data protection protocol.

While covered entities can be held accountable for data breaches experienced by their business associates, vendors can also be fined directly for HIPAA violations. New Jersey also filed charges against ATA Consulting LLC, dba Best Medical Transcription, and the owner of the business, Tushar Mathur.

New Jersey alleged Best Medical Transcription had violated the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA Security Rule and HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. Specifically, it was alleged that Best Medical Transcription failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk assessment of potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. There was also an alleged failure to implement appropriate safeguards to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level and policies and procedures had not been implemented to prevent the improper alteration or destruction of ePHI. Best Medical Transcription also failed to notify Virtua Medical Group about the breach and the improper disclosure of ePHI was a violation of its business associate agreement with Virtua Medical Group.

Tushar Mathur agreed to pay New Jersey a civil monetary penalty of $191,492 to resolve the HIPAA violations and $8,508 to cover attorneys’ fees and costs. Mathur has also been barred from managing or owning a business in New Jersey.

“We will continue to protect the privacy of New Jersey patients by vigorously enforcing the laws safeguarding their personal health information,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Our action against Best Medical Transcription demonstrates that any entity that fails to comply with its duty to protect private health records of New Jersey patients will be held accountable… Our settlement with Best Medical Transcription sends a message that New Jersey requires compliance from all entities bound by patient privacy standards.”

HIPAA-Related Fines and Settlements with Attorneys General in 2018

While the number of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights HIPAA violation settlements and civil monetary penalties has fallen in 2018, state attorneys general have increased their enforcement actions to resolve HIPAA violations. The latest settlement brings the total number of HIPAA-related fines in 2018 to 10.

State Covered Entity Amount Individuals affected Settlement/CMP
New Jersey Best Transcription Medical $200,000 1,650 Settlement
Washington Aetna TBA 13,160 Settlement (Multi-state action)
Connecticut Aetna $99,959 13,160 Settlement (Multi-state action)
New Jersey Aetna $365,211.59 13,160 Settlement (Multi-state action)
District of Columbia Aetna $175,000 13,160 Settlement (Multi-state action)
Massachusetts UMass Memorial Medical Group / UMass Memorial Medical Center $230,000 15,000 Settlement
New York Arc of Erie County $200,000 3,751 Settlement
New Jersey Virtua Medical Group $417,816 1,654 Settlement
New York EmblemHealth $575,000 81,122 Settlement
New York Aetna $1,150,000 12,000 Settlement

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September 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report

For the second consecutive month there has been a reduction in both the number of reported healthcare data breaches and the number of exposed healthcare records. In September, there were 25 breaches of 500 or more records reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights – the lowest breach tally since February.

Healthcare data breaches April to September

There was also a substantial reduction in the number of exposed/stolen healthcare records in September. Only 134,000 healthcare records were exposed/stolen in September – A 78.5% reduction in compared to August. Fewer records were exposed in September than in any other month in 2018.

Causes of September 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches

In August, hacking/IT incidents dominated the healthcare breach reports, but there was a major increase (55.55%) in unauthorized access/disclosure breaches in September, most of which involved paper records. There were no reported cases of lost paperwork or electronic devices containing ePHI, nor any improper disposal incidents.

September 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches - Causes

While there were fewer hacking/IT incidents than unauthorized access/disclosure incidents in September, they resulted in the exposure of more healthcare records. Six of the top ten healthcare data breaches in September were hacking/IT incidents.

Ten Largest Healthcare Data Breaches in September 2018

Covered Entity Entity Type Records Exposed Breach Type Location of PHI
WellCare Health Plans, Inc. Health Plan 26942 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure Paper/Films
Reliable Respiratory Healthcare Provider 21311 Hacking/IT Incident Email
Toyota Industries North America, Inc. Health Plan 19320 Hacking/IT Incident Email
Independence Blue Cross, LLC Business Associate 16762 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure Other
Ransom Memorial Hospital Healthcare Provider 14329 Hacking/IT Incident Email
Ohio Living Healthcare Provider 6510 Hacking/IT Incident Email
University of Michigan/Michigan Medicine Healthcare Provider 3624 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure Paper/Films
Reichert Prosthetics & Orthotics, LLC Healthcare Provider 3380 Theft Other Portable Electronic Device
J.A. Stokes Ltd. Healthcare Provider 3200 Hacking/IT Incident Desktop Computer, Electronic Medical Record, Network Server
J&J Medical Service Network Inc. Business Associate 2500 Hacking/IT Incident Network Server

Location of Breached Protected Health Information

Over the past few months, email has been the most common location of breached PHI. September also saw a high number of email-related breaches reported – mostly due to phishing attacks – but the highest percentage of breaches involved paper records. There were 9 incidents involving unauthorized access/disclosure of paper records and one theft incident.

Data Breaches by Covered Entity Type

There was a 150% month-over-month rise in health plan data breaches in September, although healthcare providers were the worst affected with 17 healthcare data breaches reported in September 2018. While there were only 3 data breaches reported by business associates of HIPAA-covered entities, a further four breaches had some business associate involvement.

Healthcare Data Breaches by State

Healthcare organizations based in 18 states reported data breaches in September. Texas was the worst affected with four separate healthcare data breaches in September. There were three breaches reported by healthcare providers in Massachusetts and two reported breaches in California and Kansas. One breach was reported in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

HIPAA Enforcement Actions in September

After two months without any OCR financial penalties, OCR agreed settlements with three hospitals in September to resolve potential HIPAA violations. All three hospitals were alleged to have violated the HIPAA Privacy Rule by allowing an ABC film crew to record footage for the TV show “Boston Med.”

In all cases, OCR determined that patient privacy had been violated by allowing filming to take place without first obtaining patients’ consent. OCR also determined there had been failures to safeguard patients’ protected health information.

Massachusetts General Hospital agreed to a settlement of $515,000, Brigham and Women’s Hospital settled its case with OCR for $384,000, and Boston Medical Center paid OCR $100,000. New York Presbyterian Hospital had already settled its Boston Med-related case with OCR for $2.2 million in 2016.

State attorneys general also enforce HIPAA Rules and can issue fines for HIPAA violations. In September there was one settlement agreed with a state attorney general.  UMass Memorial Health Care paid $230,000 to Massachusetts to resolve alleged HIPAA failures related to two data breaches that exposed the protected health information (PHI) of more than 15,000 state residents. In both cases, employees had accessed and copied PHI without authorization.

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$16 Million Anthem HIPAA Breach Settlement Takes OCR HIPAA Penalties Past $100 Million Mark

OCR has announced that an Anthem HIPAA breach settlement has been reached to resolve potential HIPAA violations discovered during the investigation of its colossal 2015 data breach that saw the records of 78.8 million of its members stolen by cybercriminals.

Anthem has agreed to pay OCR $16 million and will undertake a robust corrective action plan to address the compliance issues discovered by OCR during the investigation.

The previous largest ever HIPAA breach settlement was $5.55 million, which was agreed with Advocate Health Care in 2016. “The largest health data breach in U.S. history fully merits the largest HIPAA settlement in history,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.

Anthem Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is America’s second largest health insurer. In January 2015, Anthem discovered cybercriminals had breached its defenses and had gained access to its systems and members’ sensitive data. With assistance from cybersecurity firm Mandiant, Anthem determined this was an advanced persistent threat attack – a continuous and targeted cyberattack conducted with the sole purpose of silently stealing sensitive data.

The attackers first gained access to its IT systems on December 2, 2014, with access continuing until January 27, 2015. During that time the attackers stole the data of 78.8 million plan members, including names, addresses, dates of birth, medical identification numbers, employment information, email addresses, and Social Security numbers.

The attackers gained a foothold in its network through spear phishing emails sent to one of its subsidiaries. They were then able to move laterally through its network to gain access to plan members’ data.

Anthem reported the data breach to OCR on March 13, 2015; however, by that time OCR was already a month into a compliance review of Anthem Inc. OCR took prompt action after Anthem uploaded a breach notice to its website and media reports started to appear indicating the colossal scale of the breach.

The OCR investigation uncovered multiple potential violations of HIPAA Rules. Anthem chose to settle the HIPAA violation case with no admission of liability.

OCR’s alleged HIPAA violations were:

  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(u)(1)(ii)(A) – A failure to conduct a comprehensive, organization-wide risk analysis to identify potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D) – The failure to implement regularly review records of information system activity.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308 (a)(6)(ii) – Failures relating to the requirement to identify and respond to detections of a security incident leading to a breach.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(a) – The failure to implement sufficient technical policies and procedures for electronic information systems that maintain ePHI and to only allow authorized persons/software programs to access that ePHI.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a) – The failure to prevent the unauthorized accessing of the ePHI of 78.8 million individuals that was maintained in its data warehouse.

“Unfortunately, Anthem failed to implement appropriate measures for detecting hackers who had gained access to their system to harvest passwords and steal people’s private information,” said Roger Severino. “We know that large health care entities are attractive targets for hackers, which is why they are expected to have strong password policies and to monitor and respond to security incidents in a timely fashion or risk enforcement by OCR.”

In addition to the OCR HIPAA settlement, Anthem has also paid damages to victims of the breach. Anthem chose to settle a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 19.1 million customers whose sensitive information was stolen. Anthem agreed to settle the lawsuit of $115 million.

2018 OCR HIPAA Settlements and Civil Monetary Penalties

Given the size of the Anthem HIPAA settlement it is no surprise that 2018 has seen OCR smash its previous record for financial penalties for HIPAA violations. The latest settlement takes OCR HIPAA penalties past the $100 million mark.

There have not been as many HIPAA penalties in 2018 than 2016(13), although this year has seen $1.4 million more raised in penalties than the previous record year and there are still 10 weeks left of 2018. The total is likely to rise further still.

OCR Financial Penalties for HIPAA Violations (2008-2018)

Year Settlements and CMPs Total Fines
2018 1 $24,947,000
2017 1 $19,393,000
2016 2 $23,505,300
2015 3 $6,193,400
2014 5 $7,940,220
2013 5 $3,740,780
2012 6 $4,850,000
2011 6 $6,165,500
2010 13 $1,035,000
2009 10 $2,250,000
2008 7 $100,000
Total 59 $100,120,200


HIPAA Fines and CMPs

Largest Ever Penalties for HIPAA Violations

Year Covered Entity Amount Settlement/CMP
2018 Anthem Inc $16,000,000 Settlement
2016 Advocate Health Care Network $5,550,000 Settlement
2017 Memorial Healthcare System $5,500,000 Settlement
2014 New York and Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University $4,800,000 Settlement
2018 University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center $4,34,8000 Civil Monetary Penalty
2011 Cignet Health of Prince George’s County $4,300,000 Civil Monetary Penalty
2016 Feinstein Institute for Medical Research $3,900,000 Settlement
2018 Fresenius Medical Care North America $3,500,000 Settlement
2015 Triple S Management Corporation $3,500,000 Settlement
2017 Children’s Medical Center of Dallas $3,200,000 Civil Monetary Penalty

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