BA agreements likely a bigger target of 2015 OCR enforcement, attorneys say

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The $150,000 fine that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights levied against an Alaska mental health organization last month could be a sign that OCR is settling in after a wave of leadership changes in 2014 and gearing up to aggressively investigate HIPAA compliance complaints, according to a former federal attorney.

Ex-OCR lawyer David Holtzman notes that there are more than 6,000 HIPAA privacy and security rule complaints and compliance reviews under investigation in an article at HealthcareInfoSecurity. He predicts more high-profile enforcement actions in 2015.

Holtzman echoes a warning from Jerome B. Meites, OCR chief regional counsel for the Chicago area, who told an American Bar Association conference last summer that the whopping fines levied over the past year will "pale in comparison" to those expected to come.

Meanwhile, privacy and healthcare attorneys Alisa Chestler and Donna Fraiche of law firm Baker Donelson, in an interview with HealthcareInfoSecurity, urge healthcare organizations to conduct their own mock audits to determine any exposures and to do their best to fix those problems.

They also recommend keeping all such documentation in one place--including all records of HIPAA education programs conducted with staff, and evidence that they've reviewed all business associate agreements--and ensuring that it's up to date. Chestler and Fraiche foresee BA agreements being a bigger target of OCR enforcement actions in 2015.

In particular, Chestler and Fraiche say, organizations need to re-examine all bring-your-own-device policies and make sure they address any issues that have arisen since those policies were last reviewed.

In September, OCR announced it was delaying the start of the second round of audits in order get a web portal up an running through which entities could submit information. A specific start date has not been announced, only that the new audits will begin in early 2015.

Brett Short, chief compliance officer at the University of Kentucky HealthCare in Lexington, Kentucky, spoke with FierceHealthIT about receiving a call from an auditor when the organization had never received a letter saying it had 10 days to submit required documents.

To learn more:
- read the Holtzman article
- listen to the interview

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