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Advocate Health Care settles potential HIPAA penalties for $5.55 million

Advocate Health Care Network (Advocate) has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), for multiple potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) involving electronic protected health information (ePHI). Advocate has agreed to pay a settlement amount of $5.55 million and adopt a corrective action plan.  This significant settlement, the largest to-date against a single entity, is a result of the extent and duration of the alleged noncompliance (dating back to the inception of the Security Rule in some instances), the involvement of the State Attorney General in a corresponding investigation, and the large number of individuals whose information was affected by Advocate, one of the largest health systems in the country. 

“We hope this settlement sends a strong message to covered entities that they must engage in a comprehensive risk analysis and risk management to ensure that individuals’ ePHI is secure,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. “This includes implementing physical, technical, and administrative security measures sufficient to reduce the risks to ePHI in all physical locations and on all portable devices to a reasonable and appropriate level.”

OCR began its investigation in 2013, when Advocate submitted three breach notification reports pertaining to separate and distinct incidents involving its subsidiary, Advocate Medical Group (“AMG”). The combined breaches affected the ePHI of approximately 4 million individuals.  The ePHI included demographic information, clinical information, health insurance information, patient names, addresses, credit card numbers and their expiration dates, and dates of birth. OCR’s investigations into these incidents revealed that Advocate failed to:

  • conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to all of its ePHI;
  • implement policies and procedures and facility access controls to limit physical access to the electronic information systems housed within a large data support center;
  • obtain satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate contract that its business associate would appropriately safeguard all ePHI in its possession;and
  • reasonably safeguard an unencrypted laptop when left in an unlocked vehicle overnight.

Advocate Health Care Network is the largest fully-integrated health care system in Illinois, with more than 250 treatment locations, including ten acute-care hospitals and two integrated children’s hospitals. Its subsidiary, AMG, is a nonprofit physician-led medical group that provides primary care, medical imaging, outpatient and specialty services throughout the Chicago area and in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

Read the resolution agreement and corrective action plan.

To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights, and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr

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