Cancer Care Group settles HHS charges over “widespread noncompliance” with HIPAA Security Rule; $750,000 fine and corrective action plan

In August 2012, I noted a breach involving the theft of backup media from an unattended vehicle of a Cancer Care Group employee. The backup contained information on 55,000 patients and employees.

Now, more than three years later, HHS has announced a settlement with CCG over the breach. As seems to be their style, they have chosen an incident to make a point. In this case, it’s the importance of risk analysis and device and media control policies.

Their statement:

Cancer Care Group, P.C. agreed to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Cancer Care paid $750,000 and will adopt a robust corrective action plan to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program. Cancer Care Group is a radiation oncology private physician practice, with 13 radiation oncologists serving hospitals and clinics throughout Indiana.

On August 29, 2012, OCR received notification from Cancer Care regarding a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI) after a laptop bag was stolen from an employee’s car. The bag contained the employee’s computer and unencrypted backup media, which contained the names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, insurance information and clinical information of approximately 55,000 current and former Cancer Care patients.

OCR’s subsequent investigation found that, prior to the breach, Cancer Care was in widespread non-compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule. It had not conducted an enterprise-wide risk analysis when the breach occurred in July 2012. Further, Cancer Care did not have in place a written policy specific to the removal of hardware and electronic media containing ePHI 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 ePHI, and a comprehensive device and media control policy could have provided employees with direction in regard to their responsibilities when removing devices containing ePHI from the facility.

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

Cancer Care has taken corrective action with regard to the specific requirements of the Privacy and Security Rules that are at the core of this enforcement action, as well as actions to come into compliance with the other provisions of the HIPAA Rules. The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (CAP) can be found on the OCR website at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/cancercare.html

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