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Walgreens Pays $1.4 Million for Employee HIPAA Violation

December 22nd, 2014

When you go to any healthcare provider for any type of appointment, you are required to sign a HIPAA form. Most people don’t pay much attention to the form, assuming it is just another piece of administrative red tape that they have to get through in order to see their physician. The truth is that HIPAA provides us with valuable protections. It is a federal mandate, officially named the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The form that you sign indicates to whom information can be provided on your behalf, but there is far more to the law, including requirements that employees of health care providers not share patients’ personal information. A Walmart pharmacist recently violated that law, and as a result the pharmacy giant is being held accountable to the tune of $1.4 million dollars.

The incident took place in the state of Indiana. A Walgreen’s pharmacist, Audra Withers, is alleged to have reviewed the prescription history of a woman who had once been involved with her husband. According to testimony, Withers provided both the prescription information and the patient’s Social Security number to her husband, who then provided the information to other people. The information was intended for use against the patient in a paternity suit that she was filing against Withers’ husband.

The case against Walgreens is unusual, as it is unique for a health care provider to be held responsible for an employee’s HIPAA violation, and as a result Walgreens plans to appeal the ruling. The company defended itself by arguing that it should not be liable for the violation of a policy when the employee was aware that she was violating company policy.

A statement issued by Walgreens’ James W. Graham read, “The pharmacist in this case admitted she was aware of our strict privacy policy and knew she was violating it. We believe it is a misapplication of the law to hold an employer liable for the actions of one employee who knowingly violates company policy.”

Despite the unusual aspects of the case, some legal experts believe that it is the company’s responsibility. David Orentlicher, co-director of the William S. and Christine S. Hall Center for Law and Health at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said, “The question is: How strict is that liability if the employer was not negligent. Sometimes courts do hold employers accountable, even if the employer didn’t do anything wrong, due to the employer’s relationship with the wrong-doer.”

According to testimony, when the patient complained to the pharmacy company about Wither’s actions, they issued a written warning and required that she again participates in a training program about HIPAA rules. The company has submitted the $1.4 million penalty, but will be appealing the case in hopes that the case will be reviewed and resolved in its favor.

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Gavin P. Lentz, Esq.
Bochetto & Lentz

Gavin Lentz (right) was selected as a "Super Lawyer" for 2006-2009 and 2010-2015 in New Jersey by Philadelphia Magazine. He has also been selected as a "Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine and the Legal Intelligencer in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 - 2015.

On September 16, 2002 Mr. Lentz was selected as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania by the Legal Intelligencer.

He has made many television appearances, including on Fox News, The Today Show, Inside Edition, and The Phil Donahue Show.

Mr. Lentz is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

As a former prosecutor, he knows how to aggressively go after large pharmacy chains to prove the facts necessary to protect your loved one's rights.

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