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Remedies for Violation of HIPAA Privacy Rights and Medical Confidentiality – Part 2

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I receive many questions and e-mails about possible violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) Privacy Regulations and Security Regulations, and breaches of confidentiality of medical records and medical information. 

More detailed information on HIPAA Privacy Regulations and Security Regulations, can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/index.html

There is no private cause of action allowed to an individual to sue for a violation of the federal HIPAA or any of its regulations.  This means you do not have a right to sue based on a violation of HIPAA by itself.  However, you may have a right to sue based on state law. 

To read the first part of this blog, click here. To continue learning more on HIPAA Privacy Rights and Medical Confidentiality, see below.

4.  State Laws and Law Suits (Civil Recovery).

If there was a violation or breach of patient confidentiality or medical records confidentiality, this may also be a violation of the state’s laws on patient or medical records confidentiality.  In most states this would give you a legal cause of action for invasion of privacy or for negligence.

The biggest problem usually encountered in this type of case and the reason most attorneys will not even consider taking one is the lack of documented  provable damages (again, I emphasize the words “documented” and “provable”).

5.  The Key is Documented, Provable Damages.

Unless you have actual bills and receipts, you don’t have this.  In most cases, unless you can prove that you have suffered actual damages by proof such as:

a.  Doctors’ bills you have paid

b.  Mental health counseling fees you have paid

c.  The purchase of credit protection insurance

d.  The purchase of identification theft insurance

e.  The costs you have paid because your identity was stolen

f.   Lost pay from time off (with the pay stubs, W-2 forms, etc., to prove the amount)

g.  Lost pay from a lost job (with the pay stubs, W-2 forms, etc., to prove the pay lost)

h.  Attorney’s fees paid as a direct result of the breach of privacy (key word being “direct result”)

i.  Other actual out-of-pocket expenses, you may have a difficult time proving a case in a court of law

If you have these keep good, detailed documentation.  Obtain good, legible receipts for everything.

Unless you have these, you will have great difficulty in finding a plaintiff’s attorney to take such a case.  It is doubtful that you would have a provable case, as well.  There are exceptions to every case, however.

If you do feel that you have a valid case with documented damages, we urge you to contact and retain a plaintiff’s attorney to file suit on your behalf as soon as possible.  You have only a short period of time to bring up such a case, after which your rights to do so will be extinguished forever.

We would urge you to consider carrying out actions #1, #2 and #3 in Part 1.  If these organizations do not find in your favor, then it is even less likely that a judge or jury would find in your favor.

The Difference Between Hourly Attorney vs. Contingency Fee Attorney.

Our statements above hold true mainly because most attorneys who would take such a case are plaintiff’s attorneys who take cases for a contingency fee (a percentage of the amount they win).  In such a case, if an attorney spends 100 hours preparing for trial (actually a low number), wins your case, and you only have $500 worth of provable damages (if the contingency fee agreement is for 40%, a fairly standard amount) then that attorney only gets $200, or $2.00 per hour.  I don’t know any attorney who will work for that amount.  (This is a very simplistic illustration to make the point; it does not even take into account the legal costs involved, which the client is usually responsible for paying.)

An attorney who charges by the hour may be more likely to take the case (but he/she may also be hard to find for this type of case), and may require a retainer fee of $5,000 to $15,000 paid up front just to get started.

If you have a civil case for liability, you only have a short, limited time to file it.  You must do so within the applicable time period or you will lose the right to do so forever.

Remember, there is only a short time in which to take any action that may be necessary and if you fail to do so, your rights may be lost forever.

Again, this is not legal advice, just general information.

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.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Remedies for Violation of HIPAA Privacy Rights and Medical Confidentiality – Part 1

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I receive many questions and e-mails about possible violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) Privacy Regulations and Security Regulations, and breaches of confidentiality of medical records and medical information.  I will attempt to explain and clarify this issue a little in this short blog.

More detailed information on HIPAA Privacy Regulations and Security Regulations, can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/index.html

There is no private cause of action allowed to an individual to sue for a violation of the federal HIPAA or any of its regulations.  This means you do not have a right to sue based on a violation of HIPAA by itself.  However, you may have a right to sue based on state law.  See below.

1.  File a HIPAA Privacy Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

As a first step, you may desire to file a HIPAA Privacy Complaint with the federal government.  These are usually required to be filed within 180 days of the event (there are limited exceptions).  They are usually all taken and fully investigated.  If it is an egregious or a repeat violation, it may even result in an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and criminal charges being filed against those responsible.  However, in most cases if there is a valid complaint, the federal government will assess administrative fines against those responsible.  In almost all cases, a report will be made back to you of what is found and what actions have been taken.

If you decide to file a HIPAA Privacy Complaint, this is done with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  You may do this online.  The Complaint form is found at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/complaints/index.html

If you follow this process and receive a finding that verifies the violation, you may find it easier to retain an attorney to take your case.  Please note, there is only a very short period of time in which you are allowed to file such a complaint after you have discovered it.  So be sure to do this right away.

2.  File a Complaint Against the Physician Involved with the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

The Florida Department of Health (DOH) licenses all physicians, nurses and health professionals in the state of Florida.  It is also responsible for investigating complaints against them.  The various professional boards (Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing, etc.) are under the DOH.

If there was a violation or breach of patient confidentiality or medical records confidentiality, this may also be a violation of the state’s laws on patient or medical records confidentiality. This is true in most states, not just Florida.

If there was a violation or breach of patient confidentiality by a licensed health care professional, you may also file a complaint with the appropriate state licensing board or agency about this, as well.  In Florida, for example, if a licensed health professional did this, you may decide to report this to the Florida DOH.  If they are licensed in a different state, you may have to follow that state’s procedure for filing a complaint.

For Florida, you may call the Florida DOH at (888) 419-3456 or (850) 245-4339, or you may use the online complaint form found at: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/mqa/enforcement/enforce_csu.html

The Florida DOH will investigate the complaint and will usually have an expert witness review it.  If there is a finding against the physician (or other licensed health professional) you can ask for a copy of the DOH expert’s report.  This may result in your obtaining a free expert witness review of the case.  The expert witness might even agree later to testify as an expert witness if there is a civil lawsuit filed (however, this is something your attorney would have to work out with the expert witness).

3.  File Grievance or Report to Third Party Payer (Medicare, Tricare, VA, Insurance Co.).

If you are a Medicare patient, TRICARE/CHAMPUS patient, Veterans Administration (VA) patient, Public Health Service patient, or military patient, you may also report this to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of that specific agency.

If you are a member of a managed care plan or have health insurance, you may desire to file a member grievance or complaint with the insurance company.  Every physician who accepts Medicare is subject to the Medicare Program’s peer review system.  You may file a complaint directly with Medicare and ask for it to be reviewed by the Medicare peer review program.

More on HIPPA Violations to Come.

In a future blog, I will continue to explain and clarify HIPPA violations.

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.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Preparing for HIPAA Audits

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has recently released the initial results for the first round of HIPAA audits, as well as the HIPAA audit protocol. Covered entities need to review both the audit results and audit protocol to assist in preparing for the possibility of a HIPAA audit.

Tips to Prepare for a HIPAA Audit.

Although the first round of audits has concluded, HIPAA audits will continue to be conducted through December 2012. Covered entities that avoided the first round of HIPAA audits can learn from the results released by OCR. The OCR is also expected to release an audit protocol which will further assist covered entities in learning how to prepare for a HIPAA audit. The following tips should assist covered entities in preparing for and responding to a HIPAA audit.

To see a previous blog post regarding health care audits, click here.

Before the Audit:

  • All policies and procedures required by the HIPAA Privacy, Breach Notice, and Security Rules should be finalized and regulator-ready.
  • Assign individuals in your organization that can speak to each aspect of HIPAA implementation. Be sure they are aware of questions that may be asked by the OCR concerning compliance.
  • HIPAA’s Security Rule requires that covered entities periodically conduct a risk analysis.  The OCR recently released guidance on conducting such an analysis. This risk analysis guidance can be found here. The results of your risk analysis will likely be among the documents requested for review during an audit.  If you have not conducted a risk analysis in the last year, do so now. Evaluate the results and determine how to handle identified risks. Be sure to carefully document each step of the risk analysis process.
  • Train employees on compliance. Maintain documentation that every relevant employee has been trained.
  • Identify all of your vendors that handle protected health information. Negotiate business associate agreements with all such vendors.

During the Audit:

  • Respond to every notice provided by the OCR in a timely manner. All relevant personnel should receive copies of the OCR’s written notice of its intent to audit.
  • Appropriately respond to the draft audit report with any findings that you believe were unfair or inaccurate before the report is finalized. According to the OCR you should have ten days to respond.

After the Audit:

  • When audit is over, enforce compliance measures suggested by the OCR. To avoid further action taken by the OCR.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Audits of Health Providers.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, hospitals, and other health providers in audits, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and HIPAA audits. The Health Law Firm also assists health providers in establishing compliance with HIPAA regulations. If you have received notification of an impending audit contact The Health Law Firm immediately.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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.

WellCare Health Plans Reaches Settlement in False Claims Act Case

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

WellCare Health Plans Inc.(WellCare) has reached a $137.5 million settlement with the federal government and nine states. The settlement resolves four lawsuits alleging violations of the False Claims Act.

WellCare is based in Tampa, Florida. The company provides managed health care services for approximately 2.6 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries across the United States.

Lawsuits Allege WellCare Submitted False Claims to Medicare, Medicaid Programs.

The lawsuits allege that WellCare submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid programs. WellCare allegedly falsely inflated the amount it claimed to be spending on medical care. Allegedly, this was done in order to avoid returning money to Medicaid and other programs in various states, including the Florida Medicaid program and Florida Healthy Kids program. WellCare also allegedly knowingly retained overpayments it had received from Florida Medicaid for infant care. Furthermore, WellCare allegedly falsified data that misrepresented the medical conditions of patients and the treatments they received.

WellCare to Pay the United States and Nine Individual States in Settlement.

WellCare’s settlement requires the company to pay the United States and nine individual states $137.5 million. The nine states are Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, and Ohio. The settlement also requires WellCare to pay an additional $35 million if the company is sold or experiences a change in control within three years of the agreement.

Whistleblowers Share in Settlement.

The four lawsuits against WellCare were filed by whistleblowers under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The qui tam provisions allow individuals to file lawsuits on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.

The whistleblower whose qui tam complaint initiated the government’s investigation will receive approximately $20.75 million. The other whistleblowers will share approximately $4.66 million and will also be entitled to receive an additional share of any contingency payment.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in False Claims Act Cases.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, pharmacists, pharmacies, and other health provider in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving government health programs (Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE). The Health Law Firm also represents health providers in False Claims Act cases.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Kutscher, Beth. “WellCare Agrees to Pay Over $137.5 Million in Settlement.” Modern Healthcare. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20120403/NEWS/304039975#ixzz1yAklA7rutrk=tynt

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Florida-Based WellCcare Health Plans Agrees to Pay $137.5 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations.” U.S. Department of Justice. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/April/12-civ-425.html

Voreacos, David. “WellCare to Pay $137.5 Million to Settle False Claims Case.” Bloomberg News. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-03/wellcare-to-pay-137-5-million-to-settle-false-claims-case-1-.html

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.

OCR Releases Results From First Round of HIPAA Audits

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) has release information on the initial round of mandated audits of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entities. The OCR announced official details concerning the audits at an OCR and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conference held June 6, 2012.

Initial HIPAA Audits Started November 2011.

As required by the HITECH Act, the OCR began auditing selected covered entities’ compliance with the privacy and security provisions of HIPAA and its implementing regulations in November 2011. The OCR selected 150 covered entities to be audited in the pilot phase by KPMG LLP (KPMG). KPMG is the audit contractor chosen by the OCR to perform HIPAA audits. The first 20 audits concluded in March 2012. More audits will continue to occur this year.

HIPAA Audit Process.

The HIPAA audit process was drafted by the OCR and KPMG in November 2011. Entities selected for an audit receive a notification letter from OCR and are asked to provide documentation to the auditor. Every audit includes a site visit. After the site visit and initial investigation, KPMG recommends suggested modifications for the entity to meet compliance standards in a draft audit report. The entity will have an opportunity to respond to the draft audit report, citing any findings made by KPMG that may be incorrect. KPMG then summarizes final results in a final audit report. The final audit report details how the audit was conducted; what the findings were and; what actions the covered entity is taking in response to those findings.

HIPAA Audit Results.

The results of the initial round of audits revealed that small covered entities had a lot more issues than large ones. Six of the 20 audited entities were small entities (e.g., $50 million or less in revenue). However, these small entities represented 66% of the deficiency findings. Additionally, the OCR reported that health care providers had more problems than plans or clearinghouses. A disproportionate number of the deficiencies were by health care providers. While providers represented 50% of the 20 audited entities, they were responsible for 81% of the deficiency findings.

The OCR also announced that the majority of the findings were related to the Security Rule. OCR indicated that this is partially attributable to more of the audit protocol focusing on security than privacy or breach notification.

To view the OCR’s presentation on HIPAA audit findings, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Audits of Health Providers.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, hospitals, and other health providers in audits, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and HIPAA audits. The Health Law Firm also assists health providers in establishing compliance with HIPAA regulations. If you have received notification of an impending audit contact The Health Law Firm immediately.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Greene, Adam H. and Rebecca L. Williams. “HIPAA Audits Results Released: We Still Have Work to Do.” JD Supra. (June 13, 2012). From: http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=dca67d93-c84d-4331-a327-fc394407d125

Sanches, Linda. “2012 HIPAA Privacy and Security Audits.” National Institute of Standards and Technology. (June 7, 2012). From: http://csrc.nist.gov/news_events/hiipaa_june2012/day2/day2-2_lsanches_ocr-audit.pdf

Saul, H. Carol. “Update on OCR HIPAA Audits.” Lexology. (May 29, 2012). From: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=e5a886a7-1d24-4f90-a1a6-6a367e9fc3ba

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.