Rite Aid Corporation and its affiliates have agreed to pay $1 million to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today. At the same time, Rite Aid signed a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle potential violations of the FTC Act.
The lesson to be learned from this case:
Disposing of individuals’ health information in an industrial trash container accessible to unauthorized persons is not compliant with several requirements of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and exposes the individuals’ information to the risk of identity theft and other crimes.
The Office of Civil Rights, which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, opened its investigation of Rite Aid after television media videotaped incidents in which pharmacies were shown to have disposed of prescriptions and labeled pill bottles containing individuals’ identifiable information in industrial trash containers that were accessible to the public. These incidents were reported as occurring in a variety of cities across the United States. Rite Aid pharmacy stores in several of the cities were highlighted in media reports.
The investigation also indicated other potential concerns about Rite Aid’s policies related to safeguarding patient information during the disposal process, training employees, and a related sanction policy.
The Director of OCR noted:
It is critical that companies, large and small, build a culture of compliance to protect consumers’ right to privacy and safeguard health information. OCR is committed to strong enforcement of HIPAA.
The corrective action Rite Aid has agreed to includes improving policies and procedures to safeguard the privacy of its customers’ health information, and applies to all of its nearly 4,800 retail pharmacies. More specifically, the settlement requires Rite Aid to take a number of steps including
- Revising and distributing its policies and procedures regarding disposal of protected health information and sanctioning workers who do not follow them;
- Training workforce members on these new requirements;
- Conducting internal monitoring; and
- Engaging a qualified, independent third-party assessor to conduct compliance reviews and render reports to HHS and FTC.
The HHS corrective action plan will be in place for three years; the FTC order will be in place for 20 years. The length and scope of these plans show the seriousness these agencies are taking concerning compliance with requirements to safeguard personal information.