The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil
Rights (OCR) has announced the first HIPAA enforcement action OCR
has taken against a State agency, and the resolution agreement and
related corrective action plan carry important lessons for both
public and private entities. The Alaska Department of Health and
Social Services (Alaska DHSS), the State of Alaska's Medicaid
agency, has entered into a resolution agreement with OCR to settle
potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule. Alaska DHSS has
agreed to pay the federal government $1.7 million and also take
corrective action to properly safeguard the electronic protected
health information (ePHI) of Alaska's Medicaid
The HIPAA violations covered under the resolution agreement were
identified following a breach report submitted by Alaska DHSS as
required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and
Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The report indicated that a single
portable electronic storage device (USB hard drive) possibly
containing ePHI was stolen from the vehicle of an Alaska DHSS
employee in 2009. Over the course of the investigation, OCR
determined that Alaska DHSS:
Failed to implement adequate policies and procedures to
Had not completed an ePHI security risk analysis;
Did not have sufficient risk management measures;
Had not completed security training for its workforce
Did not have electronic device and media controls; and
Failed to encrypt electronic devices and media as required by
the HIPAA Security Rule.
In addition to the $1,700,000 settlement, the agreement includes
a corrective action plan pursuant to which Alaska DHSS agreed to
develop and maintain policies and procedures to ensure compliance
with HIPAA's Security Rule. At a minimum, such policies and
procedures are to include:
Procedure for tracking devices containing ePHI;
Procedure for safeguarding devices containing ePHI;
Procedure for encrypting devices that contain ePHI;
Procedure for disposal and/or re-use of devices that contain
Procedure for responding to security incidents; and
Procedure for applying workforce sanctions in case of
This is the latest in a number of significant HIPAA Privacy and
Security Rule enforcement actions announced by OCR in recent
months. In April 2012, OCR entered into a settlement with a small
surgical center in Arizona called Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. In
that settlement, the surgical center agreed to pay $100,000 and to
implement policies and procedures to safeguard the protected health
information of its patients after it was reported that the surgery
center posted clinical and surgical appointments for its patients
on a publicly accessible Internet-based calendar. In March 2012,
OCR announced a settlement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Tennessee (BCBST), under which BCBST agreed to pay $1.5 million and
enter into a corrective action plan to address its HIPAA compliance
issues after a report was received indicating that a number of
unencrypted BCBST hard drives that included patient records were
stolen from a leased facility in Tennessee.
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