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A data breach that occurred in October 2015 should have seen affected individuals notified within 2 months, yet it took CoPilot Provider Support Services Inc., until January 2017 to issue breach notifications.
An administration website maintained by CoPilot was accessed by an unauthorized individual on October 26, 2015. That individual also downloaded the data of 221,178 individuals. The stolen data included names, dates of birth, phone numbers, addresses, and medical insurance details.
The individual suspected of accessing the website and downloading data was a former employee. CoPilot contacted the FBI in February 2016 to receive help with the breach investigation and establish the identity of the unauthorized individual.
However, notifications were not sent by CoPilot until January 18, 2017. CoPilot says the delay was due to the time taken for the FBI to investigate the breach; however, since CoPilot was aware that reimbursement-related records had been stolen, notifications should have been sent sooner. Further, law enforcement did not instruct CoPilot to delay the issuing of breach notifications as doing so would not have impeded the investigation.
There is some debate as to whether CoPilot is a HIPAA covered entity. CoPilot has previously said it is not covered by HIPAA Rules, although a breach report was sent to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. If CoPilot is a HIPAA covered entity, it would be necessary for breach notifications to be sent within 60 days of the discovery of the breach.
OCR is investigating and trying to determine whether CoPilot is classed as a business associate and therefore must comply with HIPAA Rules. If OCR determines CoPilot is a HIPAA-covered entity, the decision may be taken to issue a financial penalty for the delayed breach notifications. Earlier this year, OCR fined Presense Health $475,000 for delaying breach notifications for three months. A fine for CoPilot would likely be considerably higher considering the number of individuals impacted by the breach and the length of the delay.
HIPAA fines may or may not result from the notification delay, but the New York attorney general has now taken action. On Thursday last week, Eric Schneiderman announced that CoPilot has been fined $130,000 for the breach notification delay, not for a breach of HIPAA Rules but for a breach of General Business Law § 899-aa. The law requires businesses to send timely breach notifications to individuals impacted by a data breach. In addition to the fine, CoPilot is required to improve its notification and legal compliance program.
Announcing the fine, Schneiderman said, “Healthcare services providers have a duty to protect patient records as securely as possible and to provide notice when a breach occurs,” explaining that “Waiting over a year to provide notice is unacceptable.”
The financial penalty sends a message to all businesses that unnecessary breach notification delays will not be tolerated. Schneiderman said “My office will continue to hold businesses accountable to their responsibility to protect customers’ private information.”