Fifth Circuit Decision Motivates Covered Entities to Appeal Unreasonable Enforcement Outcomes

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (the “Court”) vacated a $4,348,000 civil monetary penalty (“CMP”) imposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (“HHS-OCR”) in 2017 against the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (“MD Anderson”) for alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) Privacy Rule and HIPAA Security Rule. The Court held that OCR’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise unlawful” and remanded the case for further proceedings. While the case is not binding precedent outside the Fifth Circuit, MD Anderson is the first HIPAA Covered Entity to appeal its fine to a Circuit Court since the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule took effect. The ruling likely will motivate future HIPAA settlement negotiations with HHS-OCR and encourage HIPAA Covered Entities to appeal enforcement outcomes they consider unreasonable.

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ED and HHS Issue Updated Joint Guidance Regarding Student Health Records Privacy

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On December 19, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued an updated version of its “Joint Guidance on the Application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to Student Health Records” (the Joint Guidance, available here). Educational institutions at both the K-12 and postsecondary level can be subject to FERPA or HIPAA, and in certain circumstances, both. The Joint Guidance, which was first issued in November 2008 and has not been previously updated, seeks to assist educational institution administrators, health care professionals, and others in navigating what can be a complex intersection between FERPA and HIPAA as applied to health-related records maintained on students. It also addresses certain disclosures that are allowed without the written consent of the parent or eligible student under FERPA or without authorization under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, especially when those disclosures are related to emergency health or safety situations.

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$1.6 Million Civil Money Penalty for HIPAA Breach Impacting 6,617 Individuals

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The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services imposed a $1.6 million civil money penalty (CMP) against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Department of Aging and Disability Services (HHSC) for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HHSC is a Texas state agency headquartered in Austin, Texas that is responsible for the delivery of benefits and services in Texas for several programs including Medicaid for families and children, long-term care for people who are older or who have disabilities, behavioral health services, and services for women and other people with special health needs.

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$2.15 Million Civil Money Penalty for HIPAA Violations

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The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services imposed a $2,154,000 civil money penalty (CMP) against Jackson Health System (JHS) for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Security and Breach Notification Rules, stemming from various instances of noncompliance that occurred between 2013 and 2016.

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Business Associate Failed to Safeguard 3.5 Million Patients’ Medical Records

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Medical Informatics Engineering, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiaries (MIE) and the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OCR) entered into a $100,000 settlement and two-year corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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$3 Million Settlement for Exposure of and Latent Response to Exposure of 300,000 Patients’ Protected Health Information

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Touchstone Medical Imaging (Touchstone) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) entered into a no-fault settlement and two-year corrective action plan (CAP) to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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