On September 17, 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. (collectively referred to as “MEEI”) agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule. MEEI also agreed to take corrective action to improve policies and procedures to safeguard the privacy and security of its patients’ protected health information. An independent monitor will conduct assessments of MEEI’s compliance with the corrective action plan and render semi-annual reports to HHS for a three-year period.
The $1.5 million settlement and agreement to take corrective action stems from a breach report submitted by MEEI regarding the theft of an unencrypted personal laptop containing the electronic protected health information of MEEI patients and research subjects. The information contained on the laptop included patient prescriptions and clinical information.
OCR reported that its investigation indicated that MEEI failed to take necessary steps to comply with certain requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule, such as conducting a thorough analysis of the risk to the confidentiality of ePHI maintained on portable devices, implementing security measures sufficient to ensure the confidentiality of ePHI that MEEI created, maintained, and transmitted using portable devices, adopting and implementing policies and procedures to restrict access to ePHI to authorized users of portable devices, and adopting and implementing policies and procedures to address security incident identification, reporting, and response. OCR reported that its investigation indicated that these problems demonstrated a long-term, organizational disregard for the requirements of the Security Rule.
“This enforcement action emphasizes that compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules must be prioritized by management and implemented throughout an organization, from top to bottom,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.
The HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities to report a breach of unsecured protected health information to affected individuals, the Secretary, and, in certain circumstances, to the media.