The Office for Civil Rights at HHS, the federal agency assigned to enforce the privacy and security rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 2009, will host a series of workshops to train states' attorneys general about HIPAA enforcement.
HHS to train state attorneys general on HIPAA
Two-day programs will take place April 4-5 in Dallas; May 9-10 in Atlanta; May 19-20 in the Washington, D.C., metro area; and June 13-14 in San Francisco. The sessions will include a review of HIPAA and state privacy laws and instruction on the OCR's enforcement role and the new enforcement role held by attorneys general under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus law.
The stimulus law stiffened financial and criminal penalties for HIPAA privacy and security violations and stripped OCR of its sole authority to enforce the federal privacy and security provisions of the law by granting dual enforcement authority to state attorneys general. The law also specified that the criminal provisions of HIPAA can be applied to any individual who obtains or discloses health information maintained by a "covered entity"—in effect reversing a controversial 2005 opinion by former Bush administration Justice Department legal counsel Steven Bradbury, who held that in most cases only covered entities are liable under the law.
At the time the stimulus-law revisions were passed, OCR had yet to issue a civil monetary penalty, as the fines are called in the law, for a HIPAA privacy or security violation. OCR relied instead on a policy of negotiated "resolution" to cases. The privacy rule took effect in April 2003, and through 2009 the OCR had received more than 48,000 complaints alleging privacy violations, according to its website.
In February, HHS, working with the OCR, issued its first monetary penalty for a HIPAA privacy violation, fining Temple Hills, Md.-based payer Cignet Health $4.3 million for allegedly denying 41 patients their rights to have access to their medical records and for failing to cooperate with an OCR investigation of the matter.
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