The federal government said Tuesday it has fined Cignet Health of Prince George's County, Md., $4.3 million for violating 41 patients' privacy rights by denying them access to their medical records.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it was the first time it imposed a fine for violations of the privacy rule of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The department's Office for Civil Rights found that Cignet violated the patients' rights after they requested access to their medical records between September 2008 and October 2009. The 41 patients filed individual complaints with the civil rights office, according to an HHS statement.
In addition, Cignet refused to comply with the civil rights office's subpoena to produce the records until compelled by a federal court order issued in March 2010, HHS said. Cignet failed to cooperate with the office's investigations "on a continuing daily basis from March 17, 2009, to April 7, 2010," according to HHS. The department said Cignet's failure to cooperate was due to "willful neglect" to comply with the privacy rule.
"Ensuring that Americans' health information privacy is protected is vital to our health care system and a priority of this administration," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
Cignet Health, a Christian-influenced medical service, has four locations in Prince George's County, in southern Maryland outside Washington. Representatives at the main office in Temple Hills, Md., weren't immediately available for comment Tuesday.