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Archive for HIPAA News

security (2)Hackers gained unauthorized access to Anthem’s information technology system and exposed the PHI of more than 80 million people who are currently or were previously covered by the insurance provider.

Kate Borten, CISSP, CISM, founder of The Marblehead Group in Marblehead, Massachusetts, notes that the breach appears to be related to multiple security vulnerabilities. Successful spear phishing attacks permitted unauthorized access and network protocols were likely outdated, says Borten.

Much can be learned by simply looking at the way Anthem reacted to the breach and began its breach notification process.

“They had a plan, they reacted quickly, they were on top of it,” says Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon. “That’s something that I can’t say for many healthcare organizations.”

Having an incident response plan in place proves valuable regardless of the size of an organization or a breach, he says. This must be regularly tested and retested to ensure employees are aware of the plan and how the plan works so updates can be made, if necessary.

Although it is important to have an incident response plan in place, the Anthem breach highlights the fact that organizations need more to ensure PHI is secure, says Mac McMillan, FHIMSS, CISSM, co-founder and chief executive officer of CynergisTek, Inc., in Austin, Texas.

“Healthcare organizations have to invest in technology and services that enhance their detection capabilities,” McMillan says. “The bottom line we need to spend more attention on making it harder for hackers to exploit our enterprises and exfiltrate data.”

Stay tuned for the April issue of Briefings on HIPAA for more reactions to the breach.

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justice02_25965964Anthem subscribers are rallying together to file lawsuits in response to the cyberattack on the insurer that exposed the PHI of 80 million current and former Anthem subscribers, according to the Times Union.

Subscribers filed class-action lawsuits against Anthem in Alabama, California, Georgia, and Indiana. Each lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages.

Anthem set up a website that includes a letter from President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph R. Swedish and frequently asked questions about the breach.

Click here for more information.

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justice02_25965964The Indiana Court of Appeals recently upheld a $1.4 million verdict against Walgreens following a HIPAA violation, according to www.indystar.com. Walgreens had requested that the appeals court overturn a July 2013 verdict that awarded damages to pharmacy customer Abigail Hinchy after a pharmacist inappropriately accessed her records.

Hinchy filed a lawsuit in Marion Superior Court after learning that pharmacist Audra Withers accessed her prescription information without authorization. Withers shared the confidential information with her husband, who is Hinchy’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her child. Withers’ husband shared Hinchy’s private information with at least three other people and planned to use it in a paternity lawsuit, according to www.indystar.com.

Walgreens argued that it should not be liable for Withers’ actions. However, the court of appeals unanimously decided that Withers violated her duties by viewing and sharing information found in Hinchy’s records and that the trial court ruling allowed jurors to consider Walgreens’ liability, according to www.indystar.com.

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Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha recently fired two workers for inappropriately accessing the medical records of an American aid worker being treated for Ebola at the facility, according to the Associated Press.

An audit of the medical center’s EMR revealed that the employees violated Dr. Rick Sacra’s privacy by accessing his records without authorization. The medical center notified Sacra of the HIPAA privacy violation in person and in writing. He contracted Ebola while working in Africa and spent three weeks at Nebraska Medical Center where he was treated with an experimental Tekmira Pharmaceuticals drug called TKM-Ebola and later released. The medical center did not reveal why the employees accessed Sacra’s records, the Associated Press reported.

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HHS recently released guidance about HIPAA regulations affected by the Supreme Court’s 2013 United States v. Windsor ruling that found Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA states that federal law would only recognize opposite-sex marriage.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule includes information about the role of family members in patient care. Section 45 CFR 160.10 of the rule includes the terms “spouse” and “marriage” under the definition of family member.

To maintain consistency with the United States v. Windsor ruling, the term spouse includes people in a legally valid same-sex marriage sanctioned by a state, territory, or foreign jurisdiction. However, same-sex marriages performed in a foreign jurisdiction must be recognized in the United States for a patient’s partner to be recognized as a spouse under HIPAA.

Similarly, the HIPAA Privacy Rule recognizes marriage between same-sex and opposite-sex couples and defines a family member as a dependent of a marriage. These definitions apply to people who are legally married whether the jurisdiction where they reside recognizes the marriage or not.

Under §164.510(b) Standard: Uses and disclosures for involvement in the individual’s care and notification purpose, covered entities are permitted under certain circumstances to share PHI with a patient’s family member. Legally married same-sex couples are family members for the purpose of this provision regardless of where they reside.

The definition of family member also applies to §164.502(a)(5)(i), Use and disclosure of genetic information for underwriting purposes, which prohibits health plans with the exception of issuers of long-term care policies from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes. Plans are not permitted to make underwriting decisions about a patient based on his or her same-sex spouse’s genetic test results or manifestation of disease.

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