HIPAA violations can result in disciplinary action, termination, and, in some situations, financial penalties and imprisonment for nurses who violate HIPAA rules. In this post, we will discuss the several forms of penalties that can be imposed for HIPAA violations, as well as the consequences for nurses who breach HIPAA rules.
The Office for Civil Rights has issued HIPAA penalties for HIPAA violations
In general, HIPAA violation penalties are determined by the level of negligence, the severity of the violation, the harm caused, and whether the violation of HIPAA Rules was known. Nurses face four levels of HIPAA violation penalties, ranging from unknowing violations to willful disregard for HIPAA Rules.
Financial penalties are not always imposed for HIPAA violations. The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services has discretion over financial penalties and typically only imposes penalties for the most serious violations. The Office of Civil Rights prefers to resolve HIPAA violations through voluntary compliance when a covered entity realizes that HIPAA Rules have been violated and takes corrective action within 30 days after discovery. In some circumstances, technical assistance is offered to assist covered entities in resolving HIPAA compliance difficulties, particularly in complicated areas of HIPAA that are ‘open to interpretation’ or where HIPAA is not abundantly clear.
When financial penalties are deemed appropriate, the covered entity is normally penalized rather than the individual who committed the violation. The covered entity – or business associate – is responsible for training employees to ensure they are aware of HIPAA Rules and monitoring compliance to ensure that everyone is complying to HIPAA Rules. The maximum penalty for a single HIPAA violation is $50,000 per violation or per record, with a maximum yearly fine of $1.5 million per violation category.
Are Nurses Penalized for HIPAA Violations?
HIPAA violations are common. Most are unintentional and do not intend to cause harm. When they are discovered by a covered entity or reported by a colleague or patient, they must be investigated and penalties imposed. Employees who breach HIPAA must be penalized. The various sanctions should be described in a HIPAA-covered entity’s rules and discussed to workers during initial training and reiterated on a regular basis, such as in HIPAA refresher training sessions.
Employees may just need to be retrained to ensure that HIPAA Rules are understood for accidental and minor violations. For more significant violations, verbal or written warnings may be required, and termination is a possibility, particularly for violations such as snooping on patient records, theft of PHI, and unauthorized disclosures with the purpose to cause malicious harm.
Serious violations of HIPAA Rules may result in criminal charges, which may include restitution to victims, financial penalties, and possibly jail. The US Department of Justice wants to prosecute criminal violations of HIPAA Rules.
Intentionally Access or Disclose Individually
Nurses who intentionally access or disclose individually identifiable protected health information may face a $50,000 fine and up to 12 months in prison. If an offense is committed under false pretenses, the criminal penalties increase to a $100,000 fine and up to five years in prison. If there is intent to sell, transfer, or illegally use PHI for personal gain, business advantage, or malicious harm, the maximum penalty is a $250,000 fine and up to ten years in prison.
The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act mandates a required minimum jail term of two years in addition to the sentence for other offenses when it can be proven that there has been aggravated identity theft.