HIPAA Violator Gets Jail Time

Classic coding job search advice includes submitting a professional resume that touts your Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) credential, dressing appropriately and being on time for interviews, and being a courteous and respectful interviewee. Here’s one more piece of advice: Make sure your credit record is in good standing. Surprisingly, a poor rating could cost you a job.
It may sound extreme, but physicians are advised to do all they can to protect themselves against Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations. That includes running credit checks for all potential employees—the theory being: An employee who has a lot of debt and works in an office that serves celebrities could be tempted to sell information to tabloids, according to Stephen Aborn, executive director of Andrews International, a Valencia, Calif.-based investigative and security services provider (amednews.com).
It is not known if that was Huping Zhou’s motive for illegally accessing patient medical records at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he worked as a researcher in 2003. Regardless, Zhou, 48, a licensed cardiothoracic surgeon in China, was sentenced in late April to four months in jail for doing exactly that.
Zhou’s incarceration for this sort of HIPAA violation is one of the first in the nation, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, press release. In addition to jail time, the judge handed Zhou a $2,000 fine.
“There’s no question that this is sending a message,” said Aborn.
“This would be an example of [the government] demonstrating, ‘Yes, we are serious about making sure you all understand we will exercise this authority with respect to employees’,” John Christiansen, a Seattle-based attorney, told amednews.com.
“The safeguards should start at the hiring process,” writes amednews staffer Pamela Lewis Dolan, but practices shouldn’t stop there. “Beyond making good hires, practices also need access controls in place that would eliminate the potential for employees to look at files they are not authorized to see.” In doing that, the burden of guilt falls on the employee and not the employer, said Christiansen.
Learn more about the Zhou case on amednews.com.

No Responses to “HIPAA Violator Gets Jail Time”

  1. Shelly Williams says:

    Hello What ever happend to integrity in the workplace. My credit report has nothing to do with my integrity When you are hired you keep your mouth shut. How hard is that to accomplish in the workplace or out in public for that matter. I don’t care if you are a celibrity or joe blow off the street you don’t give out info for any reason. Its nobodys business why your being seen, you could offer me a million dollars and my intregity would not be waved no matter what.

  2. Joyce says:

    I can appreciate this article, but what I don’t appreciate is the blanket statement that if someone has bad credit they are more likely to have damaged moral integrity? People with perfect credit, very wealthy people, are just as morally corrupt as anyone else. This article wasn’t presented in the most professional light. After all isn’t it about being morally wealthy than monetarily wealthy?

  3. Mary Tufano says:

    I agree with Shelly, and I have good credit. I still don’t want my employers knowing that much of my business. To make the assumption that just because someone has a poor credit history, they are likely to commit a criminal act is offensive to me. In the current economic climate many honest people have hit hard times and now have poor credit. Conversely, you can have the best credit in the world and still be a dishonest person. This sounds frighteningly like profiling to me.

  4. Cindy says:

    I totally agree with the fact that having monetary wealth has nothing to do with a person’s moral integrity. There are plenty of wealthy people that have done some horrible crimes; Does know one recall the financial crisis not that long ago. People at the top of this were certainly not in bad credit standing.
    Not to mention this example was a poor one for the case as the person involved was a cardiothoracic
    surgeon!!! They are not exactly low on the income level scale.

  5. Dianna P says:

    And, what about all the people that have worked hard, paid off all their debt and now live on cash alone. They have no credit score and fromt his article, would not be able to get a job, then. People will gossip, slander or be nosy for numerous reasons.

  6. Catherine says:

    I believe it is important to check a potential employee’s credit and background. I you have bad credit you should be allowed to explain the situation as this may be no fault of your own. However, bad credit could be represenative of a persons lack of responsability and cause you to wonder if they will take the same approach with their job.

  7. theresa says:

    I don’t feel that my credit rating has to do with my work ethics. I am a Certified Professional coder, and at my last job we had EMR and they gave certain employees certain access to the system and the IT department would monitor who was in what area and why, and if they had access to the area of the pt’s medical record, they would inform the supervisor of that department. We are healthcare professionals ( the key word is professionals) we should have a moral oblagation to protect the pt.’s privatcy. You would want some one to do the same for you? I was coding a employees operative report ( my job) but i could not and would not tell anyone who or what i coded because of the HIPPA law. Some of the above comments i agree with and some i don’t, i don’t feel a person should be judged based on his or her credit rating unless there is something suspecious on it.

  8. Melody says:

    I agree, my credit rating should not have anything to do with my obtaining a job. It’s like auto insurance companies who base their rate on your credit report because they say that if you have poor credit you are more likely to have claims, which is not always the case. Bad things happen to good people too. Sometimes people may have extenuating circumstances that they have no control over such as a sudden death, an employer going belly-up with no warning, a lengthy illness, losing a job, etc. When this happens sometimes the only thing one can do is file bankruptcy and hope for the best. Just because someone has poor credit does not mean they are morally bankrupt, and healthcare professionals we are obligated by confidentiality contracts and by our reputations to keep private information private. While there are people who don’t care about their credit standing, there are a lot more who have circumstances they couldn’t control and had no other choice. A person can be responsible and have poor credit at the same time, it just depends on what has happened in their life which is really no one else’s business. Think of it this way, if you don’t want people knowing about your medical info, then why is it okay for people to know about your financial info? Something to think about.

  9. Lorraine says:

    I don’t see the connection between the credit reports and the HIPAA violation. Even the article’s author admits: “It is not known if that was Huping Zhou’s motive for illegally accessing patient medical records… ” So if the author has no information on the person’s motive, why drag in credit reports? There are a number of inapprorpiate connections that could be made here, but I won’t go into them out of consideration for others.

  10. Lynn says:

    My credit may not be perfect, but my work ethnic and history is something in itself. I was at a company for 16 years, worked from the bottom up and then the company closed suddenly. Just because my credit rating isn’t great shouldnt allow anyone to judge me as to what kind of employee I would make. I am loyal, honest and very hard worker and take my job seriously. Thank you for reading.

  11. Missy says:

    I really does not matter since your employer has you social security number! My credit literally sucks…a foreclosure put my credit in the toilet, so, no I do not want my employer knowing my personal business and assume because I have crappy credit I am going to violate HIPAA.

  12. Michelle Fata says:

    Here, here! My credit has been up and down but I have never been in violation of the law and don’t plan on starting now! It says more about the people making the rules than us. After all we are not the ones sitting around on our butts writing more BS like this than going after the people defrauding the government for millions every day. They are all talk no action and mostly corrupt themselves.

  13. Edie says:

    I agree with Melody and all of you who have the same comments with her . My credit record is damaged and I did pay my bill until the last penny that I had and finally I gave up . Most of my stories are in Melody’s comment . I am a hard worker and has been working at medical field for about 5 years and my evaluations from my employer were very good . Even though my credit records were bad I don’t like to abuse my works and I thankful that I still have my job. I just wonder those people who like to judge others with credit records they are really good people . One day if ” a bad credit ” comes to their record or report and they cannot avoid it I hope they can handle it very well and know how our feel about having a bad credit . Well .. I wish them the best and I hope they don’t have to go through the pain.

  14. Nancy says:

    Wiith the economy today and the credit card companys raising interest rates to high ajustable rates, also more prople out of work and loosing homes you have more people with credit problems they had no control of

  15. rdg says:

    I am very offended by this. I have read the article in MedNews, it does not indicate in any way he did this due to being in debt and needing money. I agree he or anyelse need to be punished, however, I strongly disagree that it is only due to someone’s credit score. I am a firsthand victim of identity theft which could have hurt my credit score and it took over a year to get straight. It is the “victim” that has to pay the price for others action when it comes to financial identity theft. Even the rich/famous have financial problems. It still does not give anyone the right to get into others personal business. It certainly does not give employers the right to get into potential employees financial business. An employee’s integrity and work ethics should speak alot louder than financial history. Most people do have up and down financial problems for various reasons, it’s not always just to make a dollar. Tabloids should also be punished, they are the ones paying someone for “dirt” on celebrities….haven’t seen where that is being stopped.

  16. Allen says:

    I agree with Lorraine’s comments above. There are a number of conclusions drawn in this article but the author has not presented a single fact to back them up. This is nothing more than a theory, and a poor one at that. Is it possible that someone with a poor credit rating may make a bad employee? Absolutely. But it is every bit as possible that someone with stellar credit could be an employers worst nightmare. Greed, crime and lack of morals are not reserved for those struggling with credit. Has the author of this article never heard of Bernie Madoff?

  17. Dale says:

    It amazes me that we have sunk to this new low. “…the burden of guilt falls on the employee and not the employer.” I have to prove my credit rating in order to prove I’m a good employee? Like many of the previous comments I am just as good an employee regardless of my financial status. My job has more to do with my integrity than my bank account. I’ll sign an integrity statement for my employer. And if I should fail to meet that standard, then they can take appropriate action. And if my employer wants to know about my integrity then they can talk to my preacher. They’ll find out more about me than from a credit report.

  18. dee says:

    I worked for 43 years with no gap in my employment, even took a maternity leave as vacation time. Back in 2008 I was laid off from my job at 57 years old. I have not been able to find a job since then….I have sent out over 1,500 resumes. In the process my credit is beyond repair…does that make me a dishonest person? I have paid taxes for43 years straight, does that mean any thing? America is beginning to suck, with all the greed that have exploded this country is headed for communism…bring it on.

  19. theresa dix says:

    I cant believe it really. I think this is to much!

  20. nl says:

    I agree that one’s work history and references are more important than credit history for employment purposes. There are many people who are experiencing financial hardship at this time. The only way to help our country recover is to assist unemployed or underemployed workers find positions. If they are DISCRIMINATED against for problems that may have been beyond their control, we will never recover. How are they expected to pay their creditors without gainful employment? I also wholeheartedly agree with the example of Bernie Madoff–but there are many others–Capital Hill is full of them, and that is just a start! In a past life I had a physician who had difficulty getting credentialed to see Medicare patients. It turns out this MD had defaulted on government subsidized student loans, and had conveniently forgotten about that during military service. Once out of the military, and seeking civilian practice, it popped up again on the radar! We need to stop punishing those who are trying to work and pay their bills, and instead go after those who can but simply don’t WANT to pay their debts.

  21. Valerie H. says:

    I am really upset about this article. Thru no fault of my own ,my finances are totally in the tank. In the past 5 years I have had a son with bone cancer,Been involved in a near fatal car crash,so the medical bills are astronomical. Then I was laid off from a job where I worked 8 years and had nothing but superior on every evaluation I ever had,but due to cutbacks and the fact I was the one with the least seniority,I was laid off. Got another job after a 6 month search and then was laid off again…last one hired..first one let go due to cutbacks again..I have been un-employed for 4 months.So naturally finances are not good. Now during all this, none of my work was ever affected nor did I feel the need to sell any info I had for money.Nor was i tempted to take any money from an employer.My finances do not effect my morals.It is no ones business what my credit score is.Look at what my previous employers have to say about my work ethics.Look at my previous job evaluations.Don’t punish me for financial bad luck.Hire me because I am a good worker and I have the job recommendations from previous employers to prove it.

  22. Lori says:

    Ok, let’s take a look at the reality of this statement. If you are a student or just a hard working person that is in a medium to low pay occupation in this economy, and if you had any credit in this economy, then you are more than likely suffering with a credit issue. Or maybe some are unemployed due to lay offs and cut backs in employment you are probably suffering from credit issues. That doe not make you dishonest. A dishonest person is a dishonest person even if they have money or not. It is in the charactor of a person, not the credit. I have always struggled with money, but I have never been dishonest. It is in my view of people, and I have worked with the public for over 35 years, that alot of the people that live in the posh side of society, be it executives or other that more than likely they have a sideline that is for the most part dishonest or even illegal.That is how they can afford all they have. I think that it is a huge mistake when an employer hires according to credit standing, for even then you don’t know who you are dealing with. Furthermore, if you make that crudial mistake and get taken, then you deserve what you get.

  23. Megan B. says:

    Sounds like the person prosecuted was checking out the Medical Records for the fun of it. The article published on amednews.com didn’t indicate that he sold information or did it for monetary gain. I understand the point of the article (HIPAA is a serious matter and carries jail time for violations), but I don’t think the violator was a good example to convince employers to check credit reports. I agree that your credit report doesn’t necessarily correlate with your work ethic. Criminal background checks seem more appropriate.

  24. Kay says:

    My credit score/rating has nothing to do with my integerity or the oath I must adhere to as a RHIT and CPC. As coder, I am offended by this article. In today’s tough economy anyone on Capital Hill is capable of selling informtion to the highest bidder.

  25. Mike Glaser says:

    Stating that medical offices should be disinclined to hire people with credit problems because they might sell HIPAA-protected information is like telling grocery stores not to hire people who are overweight, because they might steal food from the shelves or their coworkers’ lunches. If the scenario seems ridiculous, the premise of your article is no less so.

  26. KarenCPC says:

    The reality is employers have been running credit checks and criminal background checks for years. What amuses me is the article states this is one of the first HIPAA violation incarcerations. HIPAA has been here since 1996. What kind of threat do you suppose people feel when it took 14 years to penalize someone for breaking the law? I know of convictions in 2004 and 2007 but that’s still not going to deter the criminal mind.

  27. CPC in Oklahoma says:

    Credit scores being used as a basis to judge people is offensive. My low credit score is due to my diabetic son not having health insurance and not any criminal tendencies. I will buy insulin and test strips any day over paying my car payment on time. Our country has taken a dangerous and negative turn.

  28. ConnieCPC says:

    I agree with many of you about the bad credit check. I also do not believe that it should be used for hiring. There are many people out there that are excellent workers and because an unfortunate incident their credit was ruined. I think that if you do use it on the hiring process there needs to be a chance for them to explain it. My credit score rating has nothing to do with my integerity or the oath I must adhere to as a CPC. As coder, I am offended by this article. Any credit problems I have is due to an ex-husband. My score is not me, but I get tarred with the same brush because I was connected to him. I am hard working and honest so I take offense to this article. So I agree with all of you that think that it is a bad idea.

  29. Karen Wolmer says:

    I agree with the above, Credit Scores or Standings should not be taken into effect for hiring an employee. The whole economy has tanked, so what is the issue? As for employers pulling credit reports on potential employee’s, then questioning them so they have “the opportunity to explain themselves?” Mind your own business! Who do you think you are? You’re a Practice Administrator, don’t think you’re someone special, you’re a dime a dozen, so get over yourself.
    As for the HIPPA violator getting jail time, take a look at CT-it was given to the State Attorney General for a major HIPPA violation and they did nothing! So, if you want to violate the law, Come to Connecticut.

  30. ac says:

    How people handle and pay their bills has everything to do with intergrity. Most employers will understand a little negative comment on a credit report if the history shows and effort to pay. And the article really says that employers are concerned about a lot of debt. I am sure that they mean when they see someone is living well beyond their means. I am sure the don’t care that you were 5 days late on you phone bill etc.. Having been in this industry as a manager and dealing with all of the new regulations including the Red Flag Rule that are financial based and not HIPAA based. I am concerned more companies are not concerned about the financial well being of staff. Our practice had an very serious employee theft situation years ago and we take this very seriously. And yes, it was due to mounting debt and living beyond the employees means. I have also worked in other fields with access to money and valuable products. They all did checks on employee at the time of hire. I have never been offended by this. Medical office staff have access to names, addresses, socials and dates of births, everything that someone would need to assume identity. Plus often they have access to cash and credit card information. Think about it. Hiring the wrong person could be very risky to a practice. I would not be surprised to see more of this as time goes on.