News Events, OCR HIPAA Audits, Risk Analysis/Risk Management

$1.55 million settlement underscores the importance of executing HIPAA business associate agreements

March 16, 2016

From the HHS Press Office
media@hhs.gov

$1.55 Million Settlement Underscores the Importance of Executing HIPAA Business Associate Agreements

 North Memorial Health Care of Minnesota has agreed to pay $1,550,000 to settle charges that it potentially violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules by failing to enter into a business associate agreement with a major contractor and failing to institute an organization-wide risk analysis to address the risks and vulnerabilities to its patient information. North Memorial is a comprehensive, not-for-profit health care system in Minnesota that serves the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.

“Two major cornerstones of the HIPAA Rules were overlooked by this entity,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). “Organizations must have in place compliant business associate agreements as well as an accurate and thorough risk analysis that addresses their enterprise-wide IT infrastructure.”

OCR initiated its investigation of North Memorial following receipt of a breach report on September 27, 2011, which indicated that an unencrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from a business associate’s workforce member’s locked vehicle, impacting the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 9,497 individuals.

OCR’s investigation indicated that North Memorial failed to have in place a business associate agreement, as required under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, so that its business associate could perform certain payment and health care operations activities on its behalf. North Memorial gave its business associate, Accretive Health, Inc., access to North Memorial’s hospital database, which stored the ePHI of 289,904 patients. Accretive also received access to non-electronic protected health information as it performed services on-site at North Memorial.

The investigation further determined that North Memorial failed to complete a risk analysis to address all of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the ePHI that it maintained, accessed, or transmitted across its entire IT infrastructure — including but not limited to all applications, software, databases, servers, workstations, mobile devices and electronic media, network administration and security devices, and associated business processes.

In addition to the $1,550,000 payment, North Memorial is required to develop an organization-wide risk analysis and risk management plan, as required under the Security Rule. North Memorial will also train appropriate workforce members on all policies and procedures newly developed or revised pursuant to this corrective action plan.

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be found on the HHS website at:http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/north-memorial-health-care/index.html.

Risk Management

Risk Management is the practice of identifying potential risks in advance, analyzing them and taking precautionary steps to reduce or curb the risk.

What Is A Risk Analysis? A Risk Analysis is an assessment of the risks and vulnerabilities to any sensitive information that your organization may collect, store, process, transmit, or share with others.

After an organization has identified all of the risks to the confidential information that it collects, stores, processes, or transmits, a determination of “What to do with those risk elements?” must be made.

  • Risk Analysis is the First Step
  • Document and Analyze
  • An organization has only four choices to address all risks that are identified

Choices to address all risk elements

Accepting Risk

An organization has the choice to accept identified risk. However, that decision must be made with thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the potential damage or liability that acceptance implies. The acceptance of risk must be made by executive management, and be based upon all of the available information. Executive Management must make this determination clear, and security policies should be updated to reflect the determination.

Transferring Risk

An organization has the choice to transfer the risky behavior or the risk liability to another party. An example of transferring risk might be obtaining data breach insurance so as to reduce the liability in the event a risk is exploited. Another option is to transfer the risky activity to another party. An example of this might be outsourcing all credit card transactions to a third party that accepts the payment for a percentage of the charged amount.

​Eliminating Risk

​Another option includes the complete elimination of a risky activity. If risk cannot be reduced sufficiently so that it is acceptable to executive management, and it is not reasonable to transfer that risk to a third party, then an organization may decide to eliminate the risk entirely. In these cases an organization makes an executive decision that the revenue opportunity is not sufficient to justify the residual risk after mitigation strategies are applied.

​Reducing Risk

​By far the most popular option is risk reduction. Risk reduction is accomplished by many methods. An organization predominantly employs multiple strategies including those above and implementation of reduction strategies and controls.

Organizations might deploy techniques and controls to reduce risk. Controls typically fall into categories such as:

  • Administrative
  • Physical
  • Technical

Controls typically include policies, procedures, practices, processes, technology, logs, checklists, and the like. RISC Management employ experts with extensive experience in these techniques.

RISC Management and Consulting, LLC can assist your organization in identifying, documenting, addressing, and eliminating risk to all your sensitive information. Contact us today to find out how!

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