This past August, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received a complaint that Housing Works Inc., out of New York, had failed to provide a patient with a copy of his medical records. The patient argued that the health care organization’s failure to provide the requested information was a violation of the patient’s rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This compliant triggered an investigation. Upon facing the allegations, the healthcare provider chose to settle the claim instead of fight back.
It is important to note that the settlement is not an admission of guilt or a concession by the HHS. Instead, it focuses specifically on resolution of this complaint. This allows the healthcare provider to resolve the issue and move forward without the unnecessary burden of a lingering issue and the additional expenses that come with formal proceedings.
To resolve this issue, Housing Works will pay the HHS $38,000 and enter into a corrective action plan. The terms of the plan include a review and revision of the organization’s current polices and procedures related to protected health information and training to workers within 30 calendar days of the agency’s approval of the plan.
Other healthcare professionals can learn two things from this settlement agreement. First, it is important to note that the settlement amount was relatively small. The HHS could begin issuing larger fees if it feels a need to deter healthcare providers from similar actions in the future. Second, the agency’s response was prompt and they also expect future actions expected by the healthcare organization to occur in a timely manner. Healthcare providers in a similar situation are wise to prepare for the agency to expect prompt action by the healthcare organization facing allegations of a violation.