HIPAA Right of Access Failures Result in Five OCR HIPAA Fines

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The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has announced five settlements have been reached to resolve HIPAA violations discovered during the investigation of complaints from patients who had experienced problems obtaining a copy of their health records.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule gives individuals the right to have timely access to their health records at a reasonable cost. If an individual chooses to exercise their rights under HIPAA and submit a request for a copy of their health records, a healthcare provider must provide those records without reasonable delay and within 30 days of receiving the request.

After receiving multiple complaints from individuals who had been prevented from obtaining a copy of their health records, OCR launched its HIPAA right of access initiative in 2019 and made compliance with the HIPAA right of access one of its enforcement priorities.

Two settlements were reached with HIPAA covered entities in 2019 over HIPAA right of access failures. Bayfront Health St Petersburg and Korunda Medical, LLC were each ordered to pay a financial penalty of $85,000 to settle the case and adopt a corrective action plan to ensure that access requests were processed in a timely manner in the future.

The latest 5 settlements were agreed with Beth Israel Lahey Health Behavioral Services, Housing Works, Inc., All Inclusive Medical Services, Inc., King MD, and Wise Psychiatry, PC. The financial penalties ranged from $3,500 to $70,000, with OCR considering several factors when determining an appropriate penalty.

The settlements are intended to send a message to healthcare organizations that compliance with the HIPAA right of access is not optional. When complaints are received alleging non-compliance, they will be investigated, and a financial penalty may be deemed appropriate.

“Patients can’t take charge of their health care decisions, without timely access to their own medical information,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “Today’s announcement is about empowering patients and holding health care providers accountable for failing to take their HIPAA obligations seriously enough.”

Beth Israel Lahey Health Behavioral Services

Beth Israel Lahey Health Behavioral Services (BILHBS) is the largest provider of mental health and substance use disorder services in eastern Massachusetts. In April 2019, OCR received a complaint alleging BILHBS had failed to respond to a request from a personal representative seeking a copy of her father’s medical records. The complainant requested the records in February 2019, but they had still not been provided two months later.

In response to the OCR investigation, the patient received her father’s medical records in October 2019. OCR determined there had potentially been a violation of the HIPAA Right of Access. BILHBS agreed to settle the case for $70,000 and has adopted a corrective action plan and will be monitored by OCR for one year.

Housing Works

Housing Works, Inc. is a New York City based non-profit healthcare organization that provides healthcare, homeless services, advocacy, job training, re-entry services, and legal aid support for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

In June 2019, a patient requested a copy of his medical records from Housing Works, Inc. In July 2019, a complaint was filed with OCR alleging Housing Works had not provided those records. OCR investigated and provided technical assistance on the HIPAA right of access and closed the case. However, the complainant was still not provided with a copy of his medical records and filed a second complaint with OCR in August 2019.

OCR reopened the investigation and determined that the failure to provide those records was in violation of the HIPAA right of access and a financial penalty was warranted. Housing Works provided the complainant with his medical records in November 2019. The case was settled for $38,000 and Housing Works agreed to adopt a corrective action plan. OCR will monitor Housing Works for one year.

All Inclusive Medical Services, Inc.

All Inclusive Medical Services, Inc. (AIMS) is a Carmichael, CA-based multi-specialty family medicine clinic that provides a range of services including internal medicine, pain management, and rehabilitation.

In January 2018, a patient requested a copy of her medical records, but AIMS allegedly refused to provide those records. The patient sent a complaint to OCR in April 2018 and an investigation was launched. OCR determined the failure to allow the patient to inspect and receive a copy of her medical records was in violation of the HIPAA right of access. The patient was sent a copy of her records in August 2020.

AIMS was ordered to pay OCR $15,000 to settle the case and adopt a corrective action plan. OCR will monitor AIMS for compliance for 2 years.

King MD

King MD is a small provider of psychiatric services in Virginia. OCR received a complaint in October 2018 from a patient who had not been provided with a copy of her medical records within two months of submitting the request. OCR contacted King MD and provided technical assistance on the HIPAA right of access; however, in February 2019, OCR received a second complaint as King MD had still not provided the patient with her medical records. Those records were finally provided in July 2020.

OCR agreed to settle the case for $3,500. King MD has adopted a corrective action plan and will be monitored by OCR for two years.

Wise Psychiatry, PC.

Wise Psychiatry is a small provider of psychiatric services in Colorado.  In November 2017, a personal representative submitted a request for a copy of her minor son’s medical records. Those records had still not been provided by February 2018 and a complaint was filed with OCR. OCR investigated and provided technical assistance on the HIPAA right of access and closed the case.

A second complaint was received in October 2018 from the same individual who still had not been provided with her son’s records. Those records were finally provided in May 2019 as a result of the OCR investigation. The case was settled for $10,000 and Wise Psychiatry agreed to adopt a corrective action plan and will be monitored by OCR for one year.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.

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