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OCR Confirms Walgreens HIPAA Investigation

Dom Nicastro, for HealthLeaders Media, August 5, 2010

“We don't comment on whether or not an investigation is being conducted,” says Jim Cohn, Walgreens Media Relations manager. “If HHS has something to announce, we would defer to them. We have high confidence in our HIPAA compliance program and believe we have strong procedures to ensure compliance."

HHS’ consent agreements with CVS and Rite Aid revealed the pharmacies disposed pill bottles and prescriptions that included protected health information (PHI) in trash containers without proper safeguards.

WTHR, the Indianapolis television outlet that broke improper disposal practices after a nationwide “dumpster-diving” investigation four years ago, reported that Walgreens was one of the pharmacies where it found PHI in Dumpsters with easy access by the public.

“The mound of PHI just kept building up,” says Bob Segall, lead investigator on the case for WTHR. “It was irrefutable.”

In addition to paying HHS $1 million, Rite Aid signed a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle potential violations of the FTC Act and agreed to report compliance efforts to the FTC for 20 years.

CVS, meanwhile, had to implement a robust corrective action plan that requires:

  • Privacy rule compliant policies and procedures for safeguarding disposed patient information
  • Employee training on HIPAA
  • Employee sanctions for noncompliance
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