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The first quarter of 2017 is not yet over and the OCR has already released details of four HIPAA enforcement penalties totaling over $11 million.  2016 set a record with $20 million in fines for the year, with $5.2 million of that coming in the first quarter.  In just the first 2 months of 2017, the fines have been more than half what the entire amount for 2016 was.  Here are details about enforcement actions in 2017 thus far:

  1. Illinois health care network, Presence Health, was fined $475,000 for failing to notify patients of a breach within the 60-day period. The incident took place over 3 years ago.  In October 2013,  operating room schedules that were written on paper and contained PHI of 836 individuals went missing.   Patients were not notified of the breach until February of 2014.  This represents the first enforcement related to the timeliness of breach notification.
  1. An insurance company, MAPFRE, was fined $2.2 million for failure to safeguard portable devices and poor risk assessment and risk management.  OCR found that MAPFRE did not have an adequate security awareness training program in place for their workforce.   In 2011, an unsecured USB device containing the ePHI of 2,209 individuals was stolen from the company’s IT department.  Despite the corrective measures MAPFRE indicated it would take, it did not actually start securing portable devices until 3 years after the incident.
  1. Children’s Medical Center of Dallas received a $3.2 million fine for multiple incidents where devices with unsecured ePHI were stolen. In 2010 an unencrypted Blackberry was stolen with the ePHI of 3,800 individuals.  In 2013, an unencrypted laptop was stolen with ePHI of 2,463 individuals.  The OCR investigation discovered that the hospital did not begin to secure and safeguard workstations and portable devices until 2013 despite being aware of the risks for many years.
  1. Florida corporation, Memorial Healthcare System, agreed to pay a fine of $5.5 million. This ties Advocate Health Care Network’s fine in August of 2016 for the record of highest penalty.  In this incident, the PHI of 115,143 patients was improperly accessed and disclosed.   Memorial Healthcare failed to terminate a former employee’s log-in credentials which was then used to access 80,000 records with PHI over the course of an entire year.  The company also neglected to review the activity within the system that would have identified that the records were being improperly accessed.   Memorial discovered the breach while investigating two employees who were stealing patient information to file fake tax returns.

Not too long ago, I posted an overview of OCR’s enforcement in 2016.  OCR continues to be active in its enforcement, at its highest level to date.  This is a great opportunity for privacy and security officials to point out to upper management the need for greater resources and attention to HIPAA compliance.

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics.  Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn.  His blog has more than 1 million followers.

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