The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (Affinity), reached a settlement for more than $1.2 million for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The alleged violations related to a photocopier previously leased by Affinity. The photocopier had an internal hard drive which stored copies of documents, including medical records, which had been photocopied by Afinity. The photocopier was returned to the leasing company and then later purchased from that same company by CBS Evening News. Apparently CBS Evening News then discovered the medical records on the photocopier hard drive.
According to the HHS, Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS OCR on April 15, 2010. This is required under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.
Affinity is a not-for-profit managed care plan serving the New York metropolitan area.
Alleged Violations Stemmed from Failing to Clear Photocopier Hard Drive.
Affinity was allegedly informed by a representative of CBS Evening News, that as part of an investigation, CBS purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity. CBS allegedly informed Affinity that the photocopier still contained medical information on its hard drive. The OCR estimated that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by the breach. The OCR’s investigation found that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without deleting the data stored on the hard drives.
Affinity Must Try to Retrieve All Hard Drives in Previously Used Photocopiers.
According to HealthIT Security, on top of the $1,215,780 payment, Affinity must also try to recover all its previously used photocopiers that are still in the custody of the leasing company. Affinity must also conduct a risk analysis of its electronic protected health information for security risks and vulnerabilities.
Warning to HIPAA Covered Entities Regarding Risk Assessments.
This settlement is an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information. HIPAA covered entities are responsible for making sure all personal information is wiped from the hardware before it is recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent. Entities are also required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have safeguards in place to protect this information.
HIPAA laws have most likely changed since you last edited your privacy forms and procedures. Many health providers simply do not have the time to re-review their policies and revise documents. In a perfect practice, this would be done every six months.
Be Sensitive to Technical Equipment Containing Internal Memory.
In today’s technological society everyone must be continually vigilant about the machines and equipment used. Many different types of devices now contain internal memory chips and hard drives that may store data that is difficult to erase. These may include, for example, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines, in addition to computers and servers. Security videos and communications monitoring systems may also maintain such information. Backup tapes and modern cell phones are other possible examples. These should be professionally cleaned of all data or destroyed before discarding them.
Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).
For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.
What do you think of this settlement? Does your office and/or practice have an annual security risk assessment? Do you think risk analyses are important? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Office of Civil Rights. “HHS Settles with Health Plan in Photocopier Breach Case.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (August 14, 2013). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/08/20130814a.html
Ouellette, Patrick. “OCR, Affinity Health Plan Reach HIPAA Violation Agreement.” HealthIT Security. (August 14, 2013). From: http://healthitsecurity.com/2013/08/14/ocr-affinity-health-plan-reach-hipaa-violation-agreement
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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