• Posts by Patricia (Trish) M. Wagner
    General Counsel / Chief Privacy Officer

    Attorney Trish Wagner counsels health care and life sciences clients in two of the most complex areas affecting their business: privacy regulations and antitrust issues. A scientist as well as a lawyer, she brings a deep ...

Blogs
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In a quiet yet shocking announcement on February 3, 2023, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew three major antitrust policy statements (collectively, the “Statements”) that have served for years as mainstays of health care antitrust enforcement guidance. Specifically, DOJ withdrew the following statements: Department of Justice and FTC Antitrust Enforcement Policy Statements in the Health Care Area (September 15, 1993); Statements of Antitrust Enforcement Policy in Health Care (August 1, 1996); and Statement of Antitrust Enforcement Policy Regarding Accountable Care Organizations Participating in Medicare Shared Savings Program (October 20, 2011).

Blogs
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On December 1, 2022, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a bulletin warning that commonly used website technologies, including cookies, pixels, and session replay, may result in the impermissible disclosure of Protected Health Information (“PHI”) to third parties in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”). The bulletin advises that “[r]egulated entities are not permitted to use tracking technologies in a manner that would result in impermissible disclosures of Protected Health Information (“PHI”) to tracking technology vendors or any other violations of the HIPAA Rules.” The bulletin is issued amidst a wider national and international privacy landscape that is increasingly focused on regulating the collection and use of personal information through web-based technologies and software that may not be readily apparent to the user.

Blogs
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Throughout 2021, we closely monitored the latest privacy laws and a surge of privacy, cybersecurity, and data asset management risks that affect organizations, small and large. As these laws continue to evolve, it is important for companies to be aware and compliant. We will continue to monitor these trends for 2022.

The attorneys of the Privacy, Cybersecurity & Data Asset Management group have written on a wide range of notable developments and trends that affect employers and health care providers. In case you missed any, we have assembled a recap of our top 10 blog posts of 2021, with links to each, below:

Blogs
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The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recently issued guidance clarifying protections applicable to consumers’ sensitive personal data increasingly collected by so-called “health apps.” The FTC press release indicated it has approved a policy statement by a vote of 3-2 offering guidance that organizations using “health applications and connected devices” to “collect or use” consumers’ personal health information must comply with the cybersecurity, privacy and notification mandates of the Health Breach Notification Rule (the “Rule”).

The ...

Blogs
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Only a few days remain before the enforcement delay that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) exercised due to COVID-19 will end and the agency will require certain payors to publish a Patient Access application programming interface (“API”) and a Provider Directory API under the requirements of the CMS Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rule. Starting on July 1, 2021, all health plans that offer Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and most Qualified Health Plans offered through the Federally-facilitated ...

Blogs
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The roll out of the Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC) 21st Century Cures Act Interoperability and Information Blocking Rules is reminiscent of the way HIPAA has rolled out over the course of the past 25 years. As of May 1, 2021, Actors have been required to comply with the Information Blocking rules. However, it will take some time before all Actors know who they are and for complaints of Information Blocking to be determined to be actual instances of Information Blocking, by which time the penalties that have not yet been finalized may also need to be adjusted.

While ONC defined ...

Blogs
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Cyber threats and cybersecurity controls have evolved significantly over the past two decades since the HIPAA Security Rule were originally promulgated. During this same time, healthcare entities have increasingly become a prime target of hackers seeking to extort payment using ransomware, exfiltrate patient data to commit fraud, or disrupt operations in other nefarious ways.  Recognizing these challenges, some security professionals have sought further clarity on the HIPAA Security Rule that they deem to be “long in the tooth”. Yet, regulators have not made any ...

Blogs
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On January 5, 2020, HR 7898, became law amending the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), 42 U.S.C. 17931, to require that “recognized cybersecurity practices” be considered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in determining any Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) fines, audit results or mitigation remedies. The new law provides a strong incentive to covered entities and business associates to adopt “recognized cybersecurity practices” and risk reduction frameworks when complying ...

Blogs
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On October 12, 2020, the California Attorney General issued its notice and third set of proposed modifications to the regulations implementing the California Consumer Protection Act (“CCPA”). These proposed modifications would change the regulations that were approved by the California Office of Administrative Law on August 14, 2020. The California Department of Justice is accepting written comments from the public on these proposed revisions to the regulations until October 28, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. PST.

Notable changes in these regulations include:

  • A requirement for ...
Blogs
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The regulations for the California Consumer Protection Act (“CCPA”) were approved by the California Office of Administrative Law on August 14, 2020 and went into effect immediately.   Earlier this year, the California Department of Justice proposed these regulations to govern the California Attorney General’s enforcement of CCPA. CCPA was signed into law on June 28, 2018 and went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Please see Epstein Becker Green’s earlier posts discussing CCPA for more information.

Blogs
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On April 21, 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a Request for Information (“RFI”) that reopened the comment period for an interim final rule that was published March 31, 2010 (75 FR 16236) (the “2010 IFR” or the “IFR”). The IFR is being revisited in response to the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) mandate for the DEA to update the requirements for the biometric component of multifactor authentication with respect to electronic prescriptions of controlled substances. Prior to the 2010 IFR, the only way that controlled substances could be prescribed was in writing, on paper with a wet signature. The IFR was the first time that an electronic alternative was made available for prescribing controlled substances and the DEA leveraged the technologies that were available at the time to ensure that electronic prescribing applications could not be misused to divert controlled substances.

To that end, the DEA fashioned their regulations to include measures that ensure that the prescriber verifies that they are who they said they are and that they are authorized and have the appropriate credentials to prescribe the medications that are being ordered. In other words, in order for a prescriber to be granted access to the technologies that would create, sign and transmit prescriptions for controlled substances electronically, they have to be appropriately authenticated and credentialed. In addition to requiring identity proofing and logical access controls that relied on multi-factor authentication, credentialing had to be conducted by federally approved credential service providers (CSPs) or by certification authorities (CAs). The IFR also included requirements for audit trails, security event reporting and provisions that governed the signing and transmission of electronic prescriptions to ensure that there was a process to address and resolve transmission failures.

While the IFR contemplated using biometrics to identify and authenticate prescribers, those technologies were still developing and evolving in 2010. Recently, under the SUPPORT Act, Congress required the DEA to update its regulations to identify the biometric component of the multi-factor authentication used to identity proof prescribers. The DEA is looking to the health care provider community who are currently using e-prescribing applications to share their experiences, offer suggestions and recommend new approaches that will encourage broad adoption for e-prescribing for controlled substances while still meeting the DEA’s objectives of ensuring the security and accountability necessary to identify fraud and prevent diversion.

Blogs
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On March 9, 2020, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published their long-awaited final rules that seeks to promote interoperability. Market participants waited longer than usual for this rule due to the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) extending the comment period at the request of a variety of stakeholders.

The ONC’s rule (the “Final Rule”) supports interoperability by prohibiting “information blocking”.  Affected organizations (see below) will want to be considering the impact on contracts and developing compliance policies that reflect the requirements of the Final Rule. One aspect of needed compliance relates to the Final Rule’s exceptions to information blocking including a newly-added “content and manner” exception.

Generally, information blocking is defined as an action by an actor interfering with, preventing, or materially discouraging access, exchange, or use of electronic health information[1]  (“EHI”). Actors include health care providers, health IT developers, health information exchanges, or health information network. In the proposed rule, the ONC proposed seven exceptions to conduct that might otherwise be deemed information blocking. However, in the Final Rule, ONC created eight exceptions. Further, the ONC defined two categories of exceptions: (1) Exceptions that involve not fulfilling requests to access, exchange, or use EHI and (2) Exceptions that involve procedures for fulfilling requests to access, exchange, or use EHI. Each of the eight enumerated exceptions are categorized as follows:

Blogs
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On March 17, 2020 the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced that it would “exercise its enforcement discretion and will waive any potential penalties for HIPAA violations” for health care providers who are serving patients using “everyday communications technologies.”  The OCR issued this guidance to ensure providers could make use of available technologies and communication apps in order to facilitate virtual visits with patients.

Specifically, the guidance provides (emphasis added):

A covered health care provider ...

Blogs
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As discussed in an earlier blog post, the New York state Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (or “SHIELD Act”), was signed into law on July 25, 2019.  A potential unintended side effect of the SHIELD Act may require health care companies to provide notification to the NY Attorney General for events that occurred well before its enforcement date. While the SHIELD Act’s data security requirements, which are covered under §4, will not come into effect until March 21, 2020, all other requirements, including the breach notification requirement, became effective on October 23, 2019.  The notification enforcement date is important for any Covered Entity, as defined by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), that has suffered a Breach, as defined by HIPAA, involving fewer than 500 individuals (“Minor HHS Breach”), was a breach of computerized data, and involved a New York resident.

Blogs
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On January 28, 2020, the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) addressed a federal court’s January 23rd invalidation of certain provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) rule relating to the third-party requests for patient records. In Ciox Health, LLC v. Azar,[1] the court invalidated the 2013 Omnibus Rule’s mandate that all protected health information (“PHI”) maintained in any format (not just that in the electronic health record) by a covered entity be delivered to third parties at the request of an individual, as well as the 2016 limitation on fees that can be charged to third parties for copies of protected health information (“PHI”).

As enacted, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule limits what covered entities (or business associates acting on behalf of covered entities)[2] may charge an “individual” requesting a copy of their medical record to a “reasonable, cost-based fee”[3] (the “Patient Rate”). The Privacy Rule did not, however, place limitations on the fees that can be charged to other requestors of this information, such as other covered entities that need copies of the records for treatment purposes or for disclosures to attorneys or other third parties.  In order for some of these third parties to obtain the records, the patient would have to provide the covered entity with a valid HIPAA authorization.  

Blogs
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January 28th marks Data Privacy Day which commemorates the signing of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.  This international treaty is the first of its kind to address privacy and data protection.

Strong privacy and cybersecurity safeguards are paramount to the success of companies and the consumers they serve.  These issues are so critical they took center stage at the annual Consumer Technology Association’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held earlier this month where tech companies of all sizes promoted ...

Blogs
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On Friday April 26, 2019, the US Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued a notification regarding HHS’ use of Civil Monetary Penalties (“CMP”) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (“HITECH”) Act.  https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/04/30/2019-08530/enforcement-discretion-regarding-hipaa-civil-money-penalties.  The notice provides: “As a matter of enforcement discretion, and pending further ...

Blogs
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Data is king!  A robust privacy, security and data governance approach to data management can position an organization to avoid pitfalls and maximize value from its data strategy. In fact, some of the largest market cap firms have successfully harnessed the power of data for quite some time.  To illustrate this point, the Economist boldly published an article entitled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”  This makes complete sense when research shows that 90% of all data today was created in the last two years, which translates to approximately 2.5 ...

Blogs
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On December 14, 2018 the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) formally issued a Request For Information (“RFI”) seeking public input on “ways to modify the HIPAA Rules to remove regulatory obstacles and decrease regulatory burdens in order to facilitate efficient care coordination and/or case management and to promote the transformation to value-based healthcare, while preserving the privacy and security of PHI.”  OCR is seeking comments for a series of 54 different specific questions (many with additional subparts ...

Blogs
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On October 26, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will hold four days of hearings between December of 2018 and February of 2019 to examine the FTC’s authority to deter unfair and deceptive conduct in data security and privacy matters.[1] The two days of December hearings will focus on data security, while the two days of February hearings will focus on consumer privacy. This announcement comes as part of the agencies Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, an initiative that has already scheduled hearings on closely related ...

Blogs
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On October 16, 2018 the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) announced an update to their previously provided Security Risk Assessment Tool.  According to ONC and OCR, the “tool is designed to help healthcare providers conduct a security risk assessment” as required under the HIPAA Security Rule.  ONC states that the updated tool includes additional features such as:

  • Enhanced user interface
  • Modular workflow
  • Custom assessment logic
  • Progress ...
Blogs
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On June 28, 2018, California legislated into law A.B. 375, otherwise known as the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“California Privacy Act”).  Effective January 1, 2020, among other requirements, the law will expand privacy rights of California consumers as well as require businesses to disclose the what, why, and how consumers’ personal information are being used.  Failure to comply with these new laws could be costly to businesses with civil penalties resulting from an action by the state attorney general of up to $7,500 per violation.  In addition, in the event of a ...

Blogs
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On January 5, 2018, consistent with the 21st Century Cures Act’s focus on creating interoperability and correspondingly a Trusted Exchange, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) released its “Draft Trusted Exchange Framework” (“Draft Framework”).  The Draft Framework is intended to streamline the exchange of Electronic Health Information (“EHI”) so that both health care providers and patients have better access to health information, thus improving communication and quality health care.  EHI includes ...

Blogs
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The 21st Century Cures Act (“Cures Act”) was enacted in December of 2016.  Among other things, the Cures Act includes provisions to encourage the interoperability of electronic health records. Specifically, the Cures Act provides for civil penalties for those who engage in “information blocking.”  The Cures Act defines “information blocking” broadly as a “practice that . . . is likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange or use of electronic health information” if that practice is known by a developer, exchange, network, or ...

Blogs
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The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice ("Antitrust Division") released their respective year-end reviews highlighted by aggressive enforcement in the health care industry. The FTC, in particular, indicated that 47% of its enforcement actions during calendar year 2016 took place in the health care industry (including pharmaceuticals and medical devices). Of note were successful challenges to hospital mergers in Pennsylvania (Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Pinnacle Health System), and Illinois (Advocate Health ...

Blogs
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Last week's "WannaCry" worldwide Ransomware attack was particularly targeted against international health organizations. Though the attack was thwarted not without a little good luck and less financial loss that might have been predicted, it unsurprisingly triggered responses from U.S. government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, with specific reference to health care providers, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). It also is no surprise that these government agencies took a carrot and stick ...

Blogs
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West Virginia recently took a bold step to set the stage to shield an in-state hospital merger from further antitrust scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Certain healthcare stakeholders are likely watching these developments with some excitement and with some thought toward pursing similar initiatives in their respective states.  Although this may have some positive effects for healthcare mergers (depending upon one's point of view) it is not altogether clear that state review processes that might shield a merger from federal antitrust enforcement will necessarily ...

Blogs
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On December 14, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied the Texas Medical Board's ("TMB") motion to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit brought by Teladoc, one of the nation's largest providers of telehealth services.[1]  Teladoc sued the TMB in April 2015, challenging a rule requiring a face-to-face visit before a physician can issue a prescription to a patient.  Following two recent Supreme Court cases stringently applying the state action doctrine, this case demonstrates the latest of the continued trend where state-sanctioned boards of market ...

Blogs
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At the International Association of Privacy Professionals ("IAPP") Global Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 5th and March 6th, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") was clear in its message that privacy was a top priority for the agency.  The FTC had a strong presence at the conference.  Three of the five Commissioners and the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection (Jessica Rich) all spoke at the conference and relayed a message of the importance of consumer privacy and security.  In that regard, the FTC speakers stressed the importance of:

  • informing consumers of the ...
Blogs
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On May 20, 2014, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted the agency’s Annual Report to Congress on Breaches of Unsecured Protected Health Information for Calendar Years 2011 and 2012 (“Breach Report”). This report provides valuable insight for healthcare entities regarding their data security and enforcement priorities.

Section 13402(i) of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to prepare an annual report regarding the number and nature of ...

Blogs
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Increasingly, state antitrust enforcement authorities are taking an interest in and/or becoming involved in the review of hospital transactions. While parties often focus on the review process at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), careful planning will take into account the fact that the State antitrust authorities may become involved as well. Among other things, it is common for FTC staff to coordinate a review of a transaction with State officials. 

A State's antitrust division falls under the authority of the State Attorney General. The State AG's office often has interests ...

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