Health records lost, stolen or revealed online

From the Chicago Tribune Article: Health records lost, stolen or revealed online

“Almost a decade after a new law went into effect to strengthen health privacy protections, the number of breaches of patient records and databases across the U.S. suggests that personal health information is not as private or secure as many consumers might want or expect.

Since fall 2009, more than 400 large health care breaches affecting at least 500 people and more than 50,000 smaller breaches have been reported to the federal government.

One of the largest unauthorized disclosures in recent history of medical records and other private information happened in September, when computer tapes were stolen that contained data on almost 5 million people enrolled in TRICARE, the nation’s health program for military members, their families and retirees.

Some breaches have resulted in personal information being revealed online. The names and diagnosis codes of almost 20,000 emergency room patients at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., were posted on a commercial website for nearly a year before it was discovered in September and taken down…

Dr. Deborah Peel, founder and chair of Patient Privacy Rights, a consumer group, would like to see more help for those whose information is breached and tougher punishment for those responsible. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee settlement amounted to “roughly a dollar per breach record, which is nothing,” she said.

Re: BCBS Breach in Tennessee

The Office of Civil Rights in the Dept of Health and Human Services (OCR) slapped the wrist of BCBS of Tennessee.

One million people’s protected health information was breached because Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Tennessee violated data security laws. The settlement cost BCBS a little more than $1.00 per person—hardly a deterrent to other corporations or adequate punishment. However, that amount happens to be the same as the highest possible fine permitted by law (HITECH).

Still it appears that criminal charges could have been filed for “willful disregard” rather than OCR accepting a settlement. OCR’s finding that legally-required “adequate administrative and physical safeguards” were lacking is evidence of “willful neglect”.

Worst of all, the one million victims received NO protection against future ID theft or medical ID theft. OCR could have also required BCBS to mitigate future patient harms, but didn’t. New technologies can protect against medical ID theft by enabling patients to review all new claims, so they can detect and prevent fraudulent claims and erroneous data from being entered into their records.

Why didn’t OCR propose that BCBS adopt remedies to protect the patients whose records were breached from further misuse and theft?  Shouldn’t OCR help protect victims?