safeguards

ALJ Rules Against FTC in LabMD Data Security Action: Sets High Bar for Proving Consumer Harm

Posted by J. Nicole Martin on November 20, 2015
Federal Trade Commission, FTC, HIPAA / No Comments

shutterstock_157454741Last June we wrote about the FTC’s enforcement action against LabMD, a medical testing laboratory, which was forced to wind down its business because of the costs associated with challenging the FTC since 2013. Using its broad enforcement authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act, the FTC alleged that LabMD failed to “provide reasonable and appropriate security for personal information on its computer networks,” which the FTC claimed lead to the data of thousands of consumers being leaked.

On November 13, 2015, Chief Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell ruled in favor of LabMD, dismissing the FTC’s complaint because the FTC “fail[ed] to prove that [LabMD’s] alleged unreasonable data security caused, or is likely to cause, substantial consumer injury, as required by Section 5(n) of the FTC Act, [LabMD’s] alleged unreasonable data security cannot properly be declared an unfair act or practice in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.” Notably, Judge Chappell concluded that Continue reading…

J. Nicole Martin

J. Nicole Martin

J. Nicole Martin is an associate and practices in the Health Care Practice Group. Nicole assists accountable care organizations, health care systems, long term care providers, behavioral and mental health providers, medical device manufacturers, physician practices and pharmacies with their compliance, regulatory and transactional needs. Nicole’s practice includes providing clients with counsel regarding HIPAA/HITECH and state privacy and security laws, data breaches, business associate and covered entity obligations, licensure laws, Medicare, Medicaid and third-party payer matters, medical staff issues, and fraud and abuse laws. Nicole also represents clients undergoing changes of ownership and changes of control, and assists them with the transactional, regulatory and compliance requirements necessary to finalize the transactions.

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OIG Releases Proposed Gainsharing Regulation

Posted by Chris Raphaely on December 15, 2014
CMP, HHS, Medicaid, Medicare, OIG / No Comments

In early October, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule that included, among other provisions, a proposed gainsharing regulation (“Proposed Rule”), and a specific request for comments on a definition of what it means to “reduce or limit services” under the statutory prohibition against certain “gainsharing” arrangements among hospitals and physicians. The OIG’s goal with this Proposed Rule and subsequent final rule is to “interpret the statutory [gainsharing] prohibition broadly enough to protect beneficiaries and the Federal health care programs, but narrowly enough to allow low risk programs that further the goal of delivering high quality health care at a lower cost.” More specifically, the OIG seeks to implement a “narrower interpretation of the phrase “reduce or limit services.” Industry analysts are touting the final regulation as a potential game changer in the battle to deliver “high quality health care at a lower cost.”

The existing gainsharing civil monetary penalty statute (“Gainsharing CMP”) is a law that broadly “prohibits hospitals and critical access hospitals from knowingly paying a physician to induce the physician to reduce or limit services provided to Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries who are under the physician’s direct care.” Violation of the Gainsharing CMP by a hospital that makes such payment, and a physician that in turn knowingly accepts the payment, results in CMPs that are no greater than $2,000 per each beneficiary for whom such payment is made.

Determining what does and what does not constitute a payment designed to reduce or limit services can be difficult, particularly because, as HHS has taken pains to point out, the statute technically prohibits payments from hospitals to physicians to limit any services, not just medically necessary services. However, as far back as 2005 the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the Chief Counsel to the OIG have supported gainsharing when safeguards are in place to evaluate risks posed by such programs, including “measures that promote accountability, adequate quality controls, and controls on payments that may change referral patterns,” and to date, the OIG has approved 16 gainsharing arrangements through the advisory opinion process.

More recently, under Section 3022 of the Affordable Care Act, the secretary of HHS established  waivers under the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) with respect to the Gainsharing CMP under certain conditions. These waivers have limited applicability as they apply only to accountable care organizations that participate in the MSSP. The final gainsharing regulations presumably will cover all hospitals and could potentially have a much broader impact upon hospital physician compensation arrangements. Overall, the Proposed Rule and the OIG’s request for comments on what should and should not constitute prohibited payments from hospitals to physicians to reduce or limit services is yet another example of how the regulatory  landscape is changing to adapt to a reimbursement model that is evolving from a fee-for-service dominated model to one in which pay-for-performance will play a much larger role.

The comment period closed under the Proposed Rule in early December, and the final rule is expected in 2015.

 

Chris Raphaely

Chris Raphaely

R. Christopher Raphaely joined Cozen O'Connor's Philadelphia office in 2014 as co-chair of the Health Care Practice Group. Chris joins the firm from Jefferson Health System, where he served as deputy general counsel and general counsel to the system’s accountable care organization and captive professional liability insurance companies.

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Enforcement Action – FTC Is Not Backing Down and Laboratory Company Goes After a Cyber-Intelligence Company

Posted by Ryan Blaney on June 10, 2014
FTC, HIPAA / No Comments

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is not the only government arm that enforces data breaches. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has broad authority to regulate the security of consumer information and hold companies liable for a failure to use adequate data security practices. In August 2013, the FTC targeted LabMD, a medical testing laboratory, which maintains personal financial and health information for nearly one million consumers. The FTC alleged that LabMD failed to “provide reasonable and appropriate security for personal information on its computer networks,” which resulted in the data of thousands of consumers being leaked on to the peer-to-peer file-sharing network LimeWire, the black-market and in the hands of illegal data brokers.

Until recently the FTC enforced its breach authority under the Act without pushback, so a company facing allegations would simply settle. However, LabMD became the second company to challenge the FTC’s enforcement of data breaches (a hotel chain company was the first to challenge the FTC’s authority). LabMD attempted to stop the investigation by filing appeals to federal district and appellate courts and the FTC. The appeals were based primarily on two arguments: (i) the FTC does not have the statutory authority to set data security standards for companies; and (ii) LabMD is already subject to the OCR’s enforcement authority under HIPAA’s security regulations, so it should not also be subject to the FTC’s enforcement authority.

Despite LabMD’s best efforts, two Eleventh Circuit judges refused to intervene before the FTC issued its final order, the FTC rejected LabMD’s motion to dismiss and it moved forward with the administrative proceedings. However, LabMD continues to fightback. Recently, LabMD filed a motion to dismiss with the FTC, and contended that the FTC had not proven that the data breach caused injury, specifically, that it did not present evidence that there was substantial harm or likely to be substantial harm to consumers as a result of the breach.

During trial, Michael Daugherty, CEO of LabMD, testified that the effect of the FTC’s allegations and subsequent probe has placed the company in a “very deep coma” and that he “can’t understate how damaging and confusing and sideswiping [the matter is] to the attitude, energy and morale of [LabMD’s] management staff.”

Interestingly, the trial has been on recess since May 30 when the administrative law judge delayed the proceeding until June 12 in response to an announcement that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was investigating Tiversa Inc., the cyber-intelligence firm that played a central role in the FTC’s case against LabMD. In a separate lawsuit, LabMD is alleging that Tiversa provided the FTC with patient information files that it stole from LabMD.

When trial resumes on June 12, the focus will continue to be on whether LabMD’s data security standards that it used to protect consumers’ personal information were reasonable. It will be interesting whether developments from the Tiversa investigation impact the outcome of the trial. For more information about this proceeding go to the FTC website.

Practice Tip: Ensure that your security policies and procedures are being implemented and followed in accordance with HIPAA security requirements because inadequate security safeguards may lead to enforcement actions by the OCR and the FTC.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney joined Cozen O'Connor as a member of the firm's Health Law group. Ryan practices in the firm's Washington, D.C., office. He focuses his practice on representing clients in the health care and life sciences industries in a wide range of matters, including health care fraud and abuse, civil and criminal government investigations, qui tam and whistle-blower disputes under the False Claims Act and other federal and state laws and regulations, HIPAA privacy and data security, compliance and transactional services, and antitrust matters.

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