Is a HIPAA Violation a Felony

There are strict guidelines that healthcare providers must follow in order to ensure privacy and security of protected health information (PHI). When HIPAA violations occur, punishments and criminal penalties can be imposed on those who have the law.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing HIPAA under the:

  • Privacy Rule
  • Security Rule
  • Breach Notification Rule
  • Enforcement Rule

The enforcement rule sets forth the procedures for investigations of complaints alleging violations of the other HIPAA rules. 

Criminal Penalties for HIPAA Violations

There are certain penalties for HIPAA violations that practices can expect to face.

These include:

  • Civil Monetary Penalties: If a healthcare organization violates HIPAA rules they can face fines ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation up to a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year for a violation in an identical category.
  • Criminal Penalties: Under certain circumstances, individuals involved in HIPAA violations may also face criminal charges. The highest level of offense is punishable by ten years in prison while the lowest level carries a one-year sentence. Individuals might also face a HIPAA fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.

Apart from these penalties for HIPAA violations, noncompliance with HIPAA can have long-lasting negative effects on an individual’s professional reputation as well as their organization’s financial stability. Patients tend to lose trust in organizations that cannot keep their PHI secure, leading to business revenue loss.

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Previous Criminal Penalties for HIPAA Violations

Six people, including five ex-employees of a Tennessee healthcare facility, entered guilty pleas to criminal HIPAA violations in connection with an alleged plot to sell patient data from auto accidents to other parties. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the five former employees of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis recently pleaded guilty to charges of improperly releasing patient information violating HIPAA in a Tennessee federal court.

Each of the six individuals received criminal penalties for HIPAA violations, varying in severity, including:

  • Maximum Penalty of 5 years in prison
  • Maximum Penalty of 1 year in prison
  • $250,000 fine
  • $50,000 fine
  • 48 months in prison
  • 30 months in prison
  • One year supervised release for each HIPAA violation

For regulators and law enforcement, stopping the misuse of patients’ protected health information is a top goal, according to regulatory lawyer Rachel Rose, who was not involved in either case.

How to Prevent Criminal Penalties for HIPAA Violations

Healthcare providers need to take all necessary steps to comply with HIPAA regulations. This includes regular training sessions for staff members handling PHI data, policies and procedures for proper handling, and implementing appropriate safeguards such as encryption technology within their systems. 

By doing so, healthcare providers will avoid potential legal liabilities, including hefty fines and imprisonment that may arise from HIPAA violations. The protection of patient information is paramount. Everyone involved in the healthcare industry must take their responsibilities seriously.

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