Affinity Health Plan, a New York-based managed care plan, will pay more than $1.2 million in HIPAA violations after a photocopier containing confidential medical information was compromised, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information.
Affinity officials said that it was informed by a representative of CBS Evening News that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity. CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.
Affinity estimated that up to 344,579 individuals might have been affected by this breach. OCR’s investigation indicated that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.
Additionally, the investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information (ePHI) stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents.
"This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent," OCR director Leon Rodriguez said in a statement. “HIPAA-covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”
In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all ePHI.