Most people understand that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) concerns the privacy of our personal healthcare information. Indeed the Act establishes strict rules for the professionals who have access to and keep our private records that contain information from our height and weight to medications we take and illnesses we fight. Many people are very sensitive about others knowing their private medical business, and for good reason. In our society, being sick is often seen as a weakness. What we seldom hear about are violations of HIPAA and what can happen when our private healthcare information is compromised. In this short article, we examine HIPAA and how courts in Indiana addressed a HIPAA violation and the jury awarded $1.44 million to a customer of Walgreen’s for a confidentiality breach.[i]
About the two parts of HIPAA and what they mean to you.
Two main sections of HIPAA affect our private healthcare information. Title I protects our employees and their families’ health insurance during a period of job change or job loss. Title II is the section, known as the Administrative Simplification provisions, that controls national standards for electronic healthcare transactions. This second part concerns national identifiers and applies to healthcare providers, employees and their insurance plans. Security and the privacy of our personal healthcare data is controlled by this second part of the Act.[ii]
The customer’s pharmacist shared confidential information about a pregnancy and the same information used to intimidate the customer who demanded child support from the pharmacist’s husband!
A twisted love triangle and child support payments were central to the case where, unbelievably, a licensed pharmacist’s husband fathered a child with the Walgreen’s customer. When the pharmacist allegedly discovered and disclosed her customer’s prescription information when confronting her husband about the pregnancy. The pharmacist’s husband then allegedly used the private information to both intimidate the customer when she demanded child support payments from the pharmacist’s husband. The abused customer sued Walgreen’s and its pharmacist in the Indiana Superior Court.
The HIPAA law does not specifically address private lawsuits against healthcare providers or other covered persons for violations of the Act. Nevertheless, the Court allowed arguments regarding negligence and professional liability for violating HIPAA. The Plaintiff customer’s complaint alleged both Walgreen’s and its pharmacist “breached their statutory and common law duties of confidentiality and privacy. The complaint also included claims of negligence, invasion of privacy and publication of private facts against the pharmacist and claims of negligent training, supervision and retention against Walgreen’s for continuing to employ the pharmacist after discovering the incident.”
While this is not the first time the structure and intent of the HIPAA law was used to support an individual’s lawsuit for violations of the Act, however, this is the first very large verdict. A $1.44 million dollar loss sends a message that the impact of HIPAA violations is much more severe than an insignificant punishment. Privacy concerns are certainly on our minds, as the media shares more stories about what can happen with laws are not followed.
The Law Offices of Michael V. Favia represent wronged plaintiffs in a variety of cases, including complaints against healthcare professionals who run afoul of HIPAA, either negligently and/or intentionally.
The Law Offices of Michael V. Favia are known for advising and representing clients in connection with healthcare matters. To contact the firm to speak to a lawyer about a healthcare-related concern you may dial (773) 631-4580. For more information about the firm’s practice areas, you can visit the website, Facebook and Twitter sites.
[i] JD Supra Law News: HIPAA Violation Results in $1.44M Jury Verdict Against Walgreens, Pharmacist
[ii] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: About the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)