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    HHS Settles Health Privacy Breach Case with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee

    The Department of Health and Human Services announced a settlement (HHS pdf; archive pdf) with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee concerning a 2009 security breach of medical data of Blue Cross members. Hard drives containing unencrypted medical data were stolen from Blue Cross — again, I have no idea why companies don’t do the basic security protection of encrypting sensitive data, especially a health insurance company that has patient privacy to consider. This is the first enforcement action from HHS under the HITECH Breach Notification Rule. In a news release, HHS said:

    Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $1,500,000 to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules, Leon Rodriguez, Director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced today. BCBST has also agreed to a corrective action plan to address gaps in its HIPAA compliance program. The enforcement action is the first resulting from a breach report required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act Breach Notification Rule.

    The investigation followed a notice submitted by BCBST to HHS reporting that 57 unencrypted computer hard drives were stolen from a leased facility in Tennessee. The drives contained the protected health information (PHI) of over 1 million individuals, including member names, social security numbers, diagnosis codes, dates of birth, and health plan identification numbers. OCR’s investigation indicated BCBST failed to implement appropriate administrative safeguards to adequately protect information remaining at the leased facility by not performing the required security evaluation in response to operational changes. In addition, the investigation showed a failure to implement appropriate physical safeguards by not having adequate facility access controls; both of these safeguards are required by the HIPAA Security Rule. [...]

    In addition to the $1,500,000 settlement, the agreement requires BCBST to review, revise, and maintain its Privacy and Security policies and procedures, to conduct regular and robust trainings for all BCBST employees covering employee responsibilities under HIPAA, and to perform monitor reviews to ensure BCBST compliance with the corrective action plan.

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