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At $1.2M, HIPAA photocopy breach proves costly

HITECH notification rule leads to settlement after CBS News story

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has settled with Affinity Health Plan, a New York-based managed care plan, for HIPAA violations to the tune of $1,215,780 after a photocopier containing patient information was compromised.

Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights on April 15, 2012. The HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information.

Affinity officials were informed by CBS Evening News that, as part of an investigatory report, the television network had purchased a photocopier, previously leased by Affinity, that contained confidential medical information on its hard drive. Affinity estimated that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by this breach.

An HHS Office for Civil Rights investigation indicated that Affinity disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.

Moreover, the investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents.

“This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.

“HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”

In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all PHI.

Covered entities must make sure that they review their business associate agreements and update them to comply with the final Omnibus Rules. HIPAA violations could have been prevented in this case if both side were aware of PHI being stored within the photocopy machine. Conducting a risk analysis is a must for all covered entities so that they know what they need to do in order to be fully HIPAA compliant.

At Vitruvian MedPro we help medical practices stay out of willful neglect by providing HIPAA Compliance consulting services. As part of our HIPAA Compliance consulting services, we help medical practices perform and document a risk analysis. We provide medical practices with a thorough risk management report describing their risks and vulnerabilities with PHI.
A free consultation of 30 minutes or less will let you know whether your practice would be found under willful neglect in the case of an audit.

For more information on Vitruvian MedPro’s HIPAA Compliance kit visit: HIPAA Compliance Kit.

At Vitruvian MedPro we help medical practices improve cash flow by providing medical billing, medical coding, and patient collection services. Visit our web site at Vitruvian MedPro

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