The largest ever settlement of alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was made with the Chicago-based Advocate Health Care Network, one of the largest health systems in the country, which has agreed to pay $5.55 million and adopt a corrective action plan.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had sued Advocate for multiple potential violations involving electronic protected health information (ePHI). The settlement is the largest to-date against a single entity, and OCR says the size of the settlement was the result of the extent and duration of the alleged noncompliance. Some of the alleged violations dated back to the inception of the Security Rule.
The settlement amount also was influenced by the involvement of the state attorney general in a corresponding investigation, and the large number of individuals whose information was affected by Advocate, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said in announcing the resolution. “We hope this settlement sends a strong message to covered entities that they must engage in a comprehensive risk analysis and risk management to ensure that individuals’ ePHI is secure,” Samuels said. “This includes implementing physical, technical, and administrative security measures sufficient to reduce the risks to ePHI in all physical locations and on all portable devices to a reasonable and appropriate level.”
OCR began its investigation in 2013, when Advocate submitted three breach notification reports pertaining to separate and distinct incidents involving its subsidiary, Advocate Medical Group. The combined breaches affected the ePHI of about 4 million individuals. The ePHI included demographic information, clinical information, health insurance information, patient names, addresses, credit card numbers and their expiration dates, and dates of birth, OCR reports.
OCR’s investigations into these incidents revealed that Advocate failed to do the following:
- conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to all of its ePHI;
- implement policies and procedures and facility access controls to limit physical access to the electronic information systems housed within a large data support center;
- obtain satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate contract that its business associate would appropriately safeguard all ePHI in its possession;
- reasonably safeguard an unencrypted laptop when left in an unlocked vehicle overnight.
Advocate Health Care Network is the largest fully integrated healthcare system in Illinois, with 10 acute-care hospitals and two integrated children’s hospitals.