August 24, 2020

First Circuit Affirms Physician's 1-Year Probation for HIPAA Violation

Holland & Knight Healthcare Blog
Nathan A. Adams IV
Healthcare Blog

One year's probation is the sentence for a physician who violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and obstructed a criminal investigation in United States v. Luthra, No. 18-1980, 2020 WL 4530101 (1st Cir. Aug. 6, 2020).

Defendant physician Rita Luthra was hired by a drug company to become a spokesperson for Actonel and Atelvia. In addition, Luthra prescribed Atelvia to her patients. She asked the drug sales representative to help her medical assistant with completing prior authorization forms, incorporating protected patient information, when the forms began to back up. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began investigating the drug company for potential kickback violations and alleged healthcare fraud. HHS investigators interviewed Luthra. Then, Luthra asked her medical assistant to tell the HHS investigators when they interviewed her that they never showed patient records to the sales representative and that Luthra was not in the office on Fridays. Luthra told investigators that the drug company paid her to author a research paper, which she never produced, rather than for speaking engagements.

The jury convicted Luthra of two counts: 1) aiding and abetting the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information, 18 U.S.C. § 2; 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-6; and 2) obstructing a criminal investigation of a healthcare offense, 18 U.S.C. § 1518(a). A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts sentenced her to a year's probation, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed and observed was as soft a sanction as feasible under the circumstances, yet capable of adversely affecting Luthra's professional license.

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