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Lawsuit Over HIPAA Breach by Mail Service Survives Motion to Dismiss

A mail service – Press America, Inc – used by a pharmacy benefit manager – CVS Pharmacy – is being sued over an accidental disclosure of 41 individuals’ protected health information.

CVS Pharmacy is a business associate of a health plan and is contracted to provide a mail-order pharmacy service for the health plan. The mail service is a subcontractor of CVS Pharmacy, and both entities are bound by HIPAA Rules.

CVS Pharmacy signed a business associate agreement with the health plan, and Press America did likewise with CVS Pharmacy as PHI was required in order to perform the mailings.

CVS Pharmacy alleges the HIPAA Privacy Rule was violated by Press America when it inadvertently disclosed PHI to unauthorized individuals due to a mismailing incident.

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The disclosure of some plan members’ PHI was accidental, but the privacy breach violated a performance standard in the CVS Pharmacy’s contract with the health plan. By violating the performance standard, the CVS Pharmacy was required to pay the health plan $1.8 million.

A lawsuit was filed by the CVS Pharmacy seeking indemnification from the mail service under the terms of its BAA and common law principles. CVS Pharmacy alleges the mismailing was due to negligence by its subcontractor, and the $1.8 payment was made as a direct result of that negligence. CVS Pharmacy maintains the breach was fully under the control of its subcontractor.

CVS Pharmacy alleged the mail service owed it a duty of reasonable care and that duty of care was breached. Since PHI was improperly disclosed and the HIPAA Privacy Rule was violated, CVS Pharmacy was required to send notifications to the 41 plan members, which the complainant claims caused damage its reputation.

The mail service sought to dismiss the claim of negligence, and in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, challenged the validity of the contractual obligation CVS Pharmacy had to the health plan that required the $1.8 million payment. The mail service also contended that its indemnification provisions were not intended to cover this type of payment.

However, the federal court declined to dismiss the CVS Pharmacy’s lawsuit. The court ruled that the indemnification provisions of the subcontractor were broad enough to encompass CVS Pharmacy’s payment to the health plan, and the subcontractor had no right to challenge the contractual obligation since it was not a party or third-party beneficiary to the contact. The court also ruled that CVS Pharmacy sufficiently alleged negligence based on the breach of duty.

Losses were also suffered as a result of that negligence, as CVS Pharmacy had to make a sizeable payment to the health plan in addition to covering the cost of issuing notifications to the plan members whose PHI was disclosed. Consequently, the motion to dismiss the case was denied.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.