Oncology Group Agrees to $750K HIPAA Settlement

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By Nathaniel Weixel

Sept. 2 — A large oncology physician practice has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle allegations it didn't comply with HIPAA requirements for protecting patients' medical information.

Indiana-based Cancer Care Group (CCG) also agreed to a corrective action plan with the federal government to correct deficiencies in its compliance program, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights announced Sept. 2. The agreement wasn't an admission of liability from CCG, nor was it a concession by the HHS that CCG wasn't in violation of the HIPAA rules and not liable for civil money penalties.

The federal government alleged Cancer Care Group hadn't complied with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Security Rule requirements to protect electronic patient data. The compliance problems were found after an employee's laptop containing patient data was stolen from a car in 2012. A subsequent investigation found the company “was in widespread non-compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule.”

According to the OCR, the company hadn't conducted a risk analysis when the breach occurred in July 2012. Further, Cancer Care didn't have in place a written policy specific to the removal of hardware and electronic media containing protected information into and out of its facilities, “even though this was common practice within the organization.”

“OCR found that these two issues, in particular, contributed to the breach, as an enterprise-wide risk analysis could have identified the removal of unencrypted backup media as an area of significant risk” to Cancer Care’s protected patient information, and a comprehensive device and media control policy could have provided employees with direction in regard to their responsibilities when removing devices containing protected information from the facility, the OCR said.

Corrective Action Plan

“Organizations must complete a comprehensive risk analysis and establish strong policies and procedures to protect patients’ health information,” OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said in a statement. “Further, proper encryption of mobile devices and electronic media reduces the likelihood of a breach of protected health information.”

A representative who answered the phone at Cancer Care Group declined to comment, and the attorney listed on the agreement didn't respond to an e-mail request.

Cancer Care has taken corrective action with regard to the specific requirements of the Privacy and Security rules that are at the core of the enforcement action, as well as actions to come into compliance with the other provisions of the HIPAA rules, the OCR said.

As part of the corrective action plan, CCG agreed to conduct an annual comprehensive analysis of security risks and vulnerabilities that involve any of its facilities and electronic equipment that contains, stores or transmits protected health information. The company also agreed to conduct a risk management plan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fabia Mahoney at fmahoney@bna.com