Massachusetts Physician Criminally Convicted of HIPAA Violation
On April 30, 2018, a physician in Springfield, Massachusetts was convicted of a criminal HIPAA violation and obstructing a criminal health care investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ was investigating the pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott for suspected healthcare fraud related to illegal marketing practices and for providing payments to physicians in return for higher prescription rates.
During the course of their investigation, investigators were led to believe that Springfield gynecologist Rita Luthra had not only received kickbacks in return for prescribing Warner Chilcott drugs, but also received around $23,500 from Warner Chilcott as remuneration for speaking at “medical education events.” These events took place inside Luthra’s office, were only attended by pharmaceutical representatives from Warner Chilcott, and typically lasted 30 minutes. Upon further investigation, the DOJ found that Luthra collaborated with Warner Chilcott by allowing the company to access protected health information (PHI) in her patients’ medical files to prepare prior authorization paperwork for insurance coverage of the company’s expensive name brand drugs.
Over the course of the investigation, the physician provided false information to DOJ officials regarding the nature of her relationship to the company. Luthra faces a possible sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of $50,000 and up to one year of supervised release for the HIPPA violation. Additionally, Luthra faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release for obstruction of a federal investigation.
Physicians and health care professionals should be reminded of the serious implications of HIPAA violations. Hefty fines and possible jail time are consequences that can happen to anyone handling private information. Remember to always make privacy a priority and to contact the Office of Privacy & Data Security with questions or concerns.