INDIANAPOLIS – The state has reached a settlement with former Kokomo-area dentist, Dr. Joseph Beck, for mishandling medical records containing sensitive information of more than 5,600 patients.
The Attorney General’s Office sued Beck for failing to protect personal information and for improperly disposing of records containing personal information of Indiana residents, which violates state privacy laws as well as the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is the first time Indiana has sued for a violation of HIPAA.
More than 60 boxes of patient records from Beck’s former Comfort Dental clinic in Kokomo were found discarded in an Indianapolis dumpster in March of 2013. The files contained records from 2002-2007.
Beck agreed to a consent judgment with the state, in which he will pay a $12,000 penalty for these violations. The order was signed this week in Marion County court.
“In an era when online data breaches are top of mind, we may forget that hard-copy paper files, especially in a medical context, can contain highly sensitive information that is ripe for identity theft or other crimes,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. “This file dump was an egregious violation of patient privacy and safety.”
In December of 2011, the Indiana Board of Dentistry permanently revoked Dr. Beck’s license to practice dentistry, following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office that cited fraudulent billing and negligence.
In March of 2013, Beck hired private company Just the Connection, Inc. to retrieve and dispose of his patient records, which included names, medical records, phone numbers, birth dates, Social Security numbers, insurance cards, insurance information and state ID numbers.
Less than a week later, 63 boxes of patient records were found in a dumpster at Olive Branch Christian Church on the south side of Indianapolis. The Attorney General’s Office recovered the files and fielded inquiries from individuals who were concerned that their records might be at risk. No identity theft was identified or reported.
Zoeller recently proposed new legislation that aims to prevent data breaches and identity theft, and reduce harm to potential victims. His proposed legislation would expand Indiana’s Disclosure of Security Breach Act to facilitate faster and more informative notification to consumers impacted by a breach. It would also add breaches of paper and handwritten records to the Act, as current law covers electronically generated records only.
Had the new legislation been in effect during this case, Beck could have faced increased penalties for improper data handling and disposal practices. It would also have enabled the state to hold Just the Connection, Inc. liable for the breach as well because Zoeller’s proposed legislation would cover “data collectors” in addition to “data owners.”
“The alarming rise in data breaches we’re experiencing on a global scale is putting countless Hoosiers at risk of identity theft, which can have absolutely devastating consequences,” Zoeller said. “Indiana’s laws must be updated to meet these crimes head on. The legislation I’ve proposed would close some loopholes in existing laws, and give the state more legal tools to combat irresponsible storage of personal or financial information, whether online or on paper.”
For more information about Zoeller’s data breach and identity theft proposal, visit: http://bit.ly/1Kf8YAs.
A copy of the consent judgment is attached.
* Beck Consent Judgment.pdf [ http://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/INSTATE/2015/01/08/file_attachments/354358/Beck%2BConsent%2BJudgment.pdf ]