EmblemHealth Pays $100,000 HIPAA Violation Penalty to New Jersey for 2016 Data Breach

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The health insurance provider EmblemHealth has been fined $100,000 by New Jersey for a 2016 data breach that exposed the protected health information (PHI) of more than 6,000 New Jersey plan members.

On October 3, 2016, EmblemHealth sent Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan Evidence of Coverage documents to its members.

The mailing labels included beneficiary identification codes and Medicare Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HCIN), which mirror Social Security numbers. The documents were sent to more than 81,000 policy members, 6,443 of whom were New Jersey residents.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs investigated the breach and identified policy, procedural, and training failures. Previous mailings of Evidence of Coverage documents were handled by a trained employee, but when that individual left EmblemHealth, mailing duties were handed to a team manager who had only been given minimal task-specific training and worked unsupervised.

That individual sent a data file to EmblemHealth’s mailing vendor without first removing HCINs, which resulted in the HCINs being printed on mailing labels: A violation of HIPAA, the New Jersey Identity Theft Prevention Act, and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

“Health insurers entrusted with their customers’ sensitive personal information have a duty to avoid improper disclosures,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “EmblemHealth fell short of its obligations to its customers in this case, and I am pleased that our settlement includes measures designed to prevent similar breaches at this company in the future.”

In addition to the financial penalty, EmblemHealth has agreed to make changes to its policies and procedures to prevent further breaches of plan members’ PHI. Those measures include the use of unique patient identifiers for mailings rather than HCINs or Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers.

EmblemHealth will also ensure that a formal transfer process takes place when the responsibilities of outgoing staff are passed on to other EmblemHealth employees or third parties, and that all necessary training will be provided.

All incoming employees will also be required to complete additional privacy and security training modules and refresher training sessions will be conducted annually. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs will be monitoring EmblemHealth over the next three years and must be informed of any further breaches of the PHI of New Jersey customers.

“This settlement should serve as a reminder that we are committed to safeguarding consumer privacy, and will hold accountable any businesses that are careless in the handling of such personal data,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.

New Jersey has been highly active as an enforcer of HIPAA Rules and has agreed four settlements in 2018 to resolve violations of HIPAA Rules. In addition to the EmblemHealth HIPAA fine, New Jersey has settled HIPAA violations with Best Transcription Medical ($200,000), Aetna ($365,211.59), and Virtua Medical Group ($417,816) in 2018.

Author: HIPAA Journal

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