$16 Million Anthem HIPAA Breach Settlement Takes OCR HIPAA Penalties Past $100 Million Mark

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OCR has announced that an Anthem HIPAA breach settlement has been reached to resolve potential HIPAA violations discovered during the investigation of its colossal 2015 data breach that saw the records of 78.8 million of its members stolen by cybercriminals.

Anthem has agreed to pay OCR $16 million and will undertake a robust corrective action plan to address the compliance issues discovered by OCR during the investigation.

The previous largest ever HIPAA breach settlement was $5.55 million, which was agreed with Advocate Health Care in 2016. “The largest health data breach in U.S. history fully merits the largest HIPAA settlement in history,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.

Anthem Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is America’s second largest health insurer. In January 2015, Anthem discovered cybercriminals had breached its defenses and had gained access to its systems and members’ sensitive data. With assistance from cybersecurity firm Mandiant, Anthem determined this was an advanced persistent threat attack – a continuous and targeted cyberattack conducted with the sole purpose of silently stealing sensitive data.

The attackers first gained access to its IT systems on December 2, 2014, with access continuing until January 27, 2015. During that time the attackers stole the data of 78.8 million plan members, including names, addresses, dates of birth, medical identification numbers, employment information, email addresses, and Social Security numbers.

The attackers gained a foothold in its network through spear phishing emails sent to one of its subsidiaries. They were then able to move laterally through its network to gain access to plan members’ data.

Anthem reported the data breach to OCR on March 13, 2015; however, by that time OCR was already a month into a compliance review of Anthem Inc. OCR took prompt action after Anthem uploaded a breach notice to its website and media reports started to appear indicating the colossal scale of the breach.

The OCR investigation uncovered multiple potential violations of HIPAA Rules. Anthem chose to settle the HIPAA violation case with no admission of liability.

OCR’s alleged HIPAA violations were:

  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(u)(1)(ii)(A) – A failure to conduct a comprehensive, organization-wide risk analysis to identify potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D) – The failure to implement regularly review records of information system activity.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.308 (a)(6)(ii) – Failures relating to the requirement to identify and respond to detections of a security incident leading to a breach.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(a) – The failure to implement sufficient technical policies and procedures for electronic information systems that maintain ePHI and to only allow authorized persons/software programs to access that ePHI.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a) – The failure to prevent the unauthorized accessing of the ePHI of 78.8 million individuals that was maintained in its data warehouse.

“Unfortunately, Anthem failed to implement appropriate measures for detecting hackers who had gained access to their system to harvest passwords and steal people’s private information,” said Roger Severino. “We know that large health care entities are attractive targets for hackers, which is why they are expected to have strong password policies and to monitor and respond to security incidents in a timely fashion or risk enforcement by OCR.”

In addition to the OCR HIPAA settlement, Anthem has also paid damages to victims of the breach. Anthem chose to settle a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 19.1 million customers whose sensitive information was stolen. Anthem agreed to settle the lawsuit of $115 million.

2018 OCR HIPAA Settlements and Civil Monetary Penalties

Given the size of the Anthem HIPAA settlement it is no surprise that 2018 has seen OCR smash its previous record for financial penalties for HIPAA violations. The latest settlement takes OCR HIPAA penalties past the $100 million mark.

There have not been as many HIPAA penalties in 2018 than 2016(13), although this year has seen $1.4 million more raised in penalties than the previous record year and there are still 10 weeks left of 2018. The total is likely to rise further still.

OCR Financial Penalties for HIPAA Violations (2008-2018)

Year Settlements and CMPs Total Fines
2018 1 $24,947,000
2017 1 $19,393,000
2016 2 $23,505,300
2015 3 $6,193,400
2014 5 $7,940,220
2013 5 $3,740,780
2012 6 $4,850,000
2011 6 $6,165,500
2010 13 $1,035,000
2009 10 $2,250,000
2008 7 $100,000
Total 59 $100,120,200

 

HIPAA Fines and CMPs

Largest Ever Penalties for HIPAA Violations

Year Covered Entity Amount Settlement/CMP
2018 Anthem Inc $16,000,000 Settlement
2016 Advocate Health Care Network $5,550,000 Settlement
2017 Memorial Healthcare System $5,500,000 Settlement
2014 New York and Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University $4,800,000 Settlement
2018 University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center $4,348,000 Civil Monetary Penalty
2011 Cignet Health of Prince George’s County $4,300,000 Civil Monetary Penalty
2016 Feinstein Institute for Medical Research $3,900,000 Settlement
2018 Fresenius Medical Care North America $3,500,000 Settlement
2015 Triple S Management Corporation $3,500,000 Settlement
2017 Children’s Medical Center of Dallas $3,200,000 Civil Monetary Penalty

Author: HIPAA Journal

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