Massachusetts group to pay $1.5M HIPAA settlement

By Erin McCann
01:10 PM

Another HIPAA data breach settlement has been reached, this time with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. (MEEI), which will pay $1.5 million to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule.

HHS officials announced Monday that the settlement also requires MEEI to take corrective action to improve policies and procedures to safeguard the privacy and security of its patients’ protected health information.

The settlement comes in the wake of an investigation conducted by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) following the MEEI Feb. 2010 data breach, where an unencrypted personal laptop containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of MEEI patients and research subjects was reported stolen. The laptop contained  ePHI – including patient prescriptions and clinical information – of some 3,621 individuals. 

[See also: Top 5: Data breach winners and losers by state.]

OCR officials say MEEI failed to take necessary steps to comply with certain requirements of the 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. Officials say these failures continued over an extended period of time, demonstrated a long-term disregard for the requirements of the Security Rule.

“In an age when health information is stored and transported on portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, special attention must be paid to safeguarding the information held on these devices,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez in an HHS press release. “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.”

[See also: 10 of the largest data breaches in 2012 ... so far.]

In addition to the $1.5 million settlement, the agreement requires MEEI to adhere to a corrective action plan, which includes reviewing, revising and maintaining policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Security Rule. 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.

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