TV report leads to $2.25 million HIPAA settlement

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A report by Bob Segall of WTHR-Indianapolis prompted the federal investigation that led to CVS Pharmacy’s agreement to pay $2.25 million for violating consumers’ privacy by not properly disposing of “protected health information such as labels from prescription bottles and old prescriptions.”

The acting director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights said Segall’s award-winning investigation “formed the basis of the [federal] investigation.”

Segall won a 2006 Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for his investigation. He also wrote about how he reported the story in an article for AHCJ: How we did it: Diving into prescription privacy.

CVS will pay $2.25 million and initiate a plan to protect consumer privacy. (Photo by afagen va Flickr)

CVS will pay $2.25 million and initiate a plan to protect consumer privacy. (Photo by afagen via Flickr)

“I think I was as surprised as anyone when i got a call from HHS” telling him about the settlement. Segall says that for the past two-and-a-half years, he has been calling the Office of Civil Rights every 60 to 90 days to find out the status of its investigation.

“After two years, I wasn’t expecting their investigation would lead to anything,” Segall says. “It’s not every day that they impose fines for HIPAA violations.”

He says the victims in Indiana were pleasantly surprised, though some are disappointed they won’t be seeing any of the $2.25 million.

“As a journalist who deals with the repercussions of HIPAA on almost a daily basis, there are so many times brick walls are put up for journalists” in the name of HIPAA privacy rules. Segall says he is gratified to see the law “really does have some teeth and the Office of Civil Rights is really going to pursue cases like this one.” While he says we’ve all seen alleged violations in which nothing is done, this settlement will send a message to companies that deal with consumer health information.

“I think it’s nice to see that this law, that for journalists does nothing but stand in the way, does help consumers.”

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