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OCR: Walgreens HIPAA Investigation Continues

Dom Nicastro, for HealthLeaders Media, August 11, 2011

An Office for Civil Rights investigation into the nation's largest drugstore chain for potential HIPAA violations that cost the industry's second- and third-largest chains millions of dollars in settlements one year later is still just that – an investigation.

Last August, OCR confirmed its investigation into Walgreens based on the same television media reports that led to million-dollar settlements with CVS and Rite Aid for potential HIPAA violations.

Contacted recently, Amanda Fine, spokesperson for OCR, offered no comment but confirmed in an e-mail to HealthLeaders Media that the investigation into Walgreens remains "open."

"OCR cannot comment on the timing or the details of an open investigation," Fine said when asked about Walgreens.

The government's investigations into the pharmacies date back four years. The HIPAA privacy and security rule enforcer's investigation into CVS and Rite Aid began September 27, 2007, according to each pharmacy chain's consent agreement with the Department of Health & Human Services.

The agreement included a $2.25 million settlement for CVS (announced February 18, 2009) and a $1 million payment by Rite Aid (announced July 27, 2010) with HHS.

Though neither consent agreement mentioned an investigation into Walgreens, OCR confirmed last year that it is looking into the HIPAA compliance practices of the Deerfield, IL, company.