WellPoint pays HHS $1.7 million for leaving information accessible over
WASHINGTON -- July 11, 2013
The managed care company WellPoint Inc. has agreed to pay the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) $1.7 million to settle potential violations
of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
Privacy and Security Rules.
This case sends an important message to HIPAA-covered entities to take caution
when implementing changes to their information systems, especially when those
changes involve updates to Web-based applications or portals that are used to
provide access to consumers’ health data using the Internet.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began its investigation following a
breach report submitted by WellPoint as required by the Health Information
Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act. The HITECH Breach
Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify HHS of a breach of
unsecured protected health information.
The report indicated that security weaknesses in an online application
database left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402
individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet.
OCR’s investigation indicated that WellPoint did not implement appropriate
administrative and technical safeguards as required under the HIPAA Security
The investigation indicated WellPoint did not:
*adequately implement policies and procedures for authorizing access to the
on-line application database
*perform an appropriate technical evaluation in response to a software
upgrade to its information systems
*have technical safeguards in place to verify the person or entity seeking
access to electronic protected health information maintained in its
As a result, beginning on Oct. 23, 2009, until Mar. 7, 2010, the investigation
indicated that WellPoint impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 612,402
individuals by allowing access to the ePHI of such individuals maintained in
the application database. This data included names, dates of birth, addresses,
Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and health information.
Whether systems upgrades are conducted by covered entities or their business
associates, HHS expects organizations to have in place reasonable and
appropriate technical, administrative and physical safeguards to protect the
confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health
information – especially information that is accessible over the Internet.
Beginning Sept. 23, 2013, liability for many of HIPAA’s requirements will
extend directly to business associates that receive or store protected health
information, such as contractors and subcontractors.
Individuals who believe that a covered entity has violated their (or someone
else’s) health information privacy rights or committed another violation of
the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rule may file a complaint with OCR at:
The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at:
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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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