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Advocate Health Care Agrees to Pay $5.55 Million to Settle Potential HIPAA Violations

August 4, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Advocate Health Care Network, a 12-hospital integrated health care delivery system based in Illinois, has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), stemming from data breaches affecting the protected health information of 4 million people.

According to a press release from OCR, Advocate has agreed to pay a settlement amount of $5.55 million and adopt a corrective action plan due to multiple potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) involving electronic protected health information (ePHI).

“This significant settlement, the largest to-date against a single entity, is a result of the extent and duration of the alleged noncompliance (dating back to the inception of the Security Rule in some instances), the involvement of the State Attorney General in a corresponding investigation, and the large number of individuals whose information was affected by Advocate, one of the largest health systems in the country,” OCR officials stated in the press release.

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 approximately 4 million individuals, according to OCR.

The ePHI included demographic information, clinical information, health insurance information, patient names, addresses, credit card numbers and their expiration dates, and dates of birth. In its investigations, OCR found that the health system failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to all of its ePHI and also failed to implement policies and procedures and facility access controls to limit physical access to the electronic information systems housed within a large data support center.

As a result of a its investigation, OCR also found that Advocate failed to obtain written business associate contracts including assurances that the entity would appropriately safeguard all ePHI in its possession and also failed to reasonably safeguard an unencrypted laptop when left in an unlocked vehicle overnight,

Advocate Health Care Network is the largest fully-integrated health care system in Illinois, with more than 250 treatment locations, including 11 acute-care hospitals and one children's hospital with two campuses. Its subsidiary, Advocate Medical Group is a physician-led medical group that provides primary care, medical imaging, outpatient and specialty services throughout the Chicago area and in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

“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,” OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said in a prepared statement. “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.”



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