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Siobhan Dunnavant HIPAA Investigation Exposes GOP Sickness

Let’s not kid ourselves. Dr. Dunnavant will win today’s election by a good margin. That was never in doubt. And while her campaign letter at the heart of the HHS investigation offended a number of her patients, inside establishment GOP circles, any behavior, no matter how shocking or reprehensible, is ignored as long as there is the letter “R” after the name. And, as expected, these same people who set the bar so low for Republicans they elect to office attack the messenger – me – who dares to hold our candidates and elected representatives to a high standard.

Below is the story from WWBT-12 in Richmond.

And many of these same people are completely befuddled at the soaring poll numbers of Republican Presidential candidates who have never held elected office. They refuse to stop and think that perhaps if we didn’t excuse bad Republican behavior and defend the indefensible, people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson would have already dropped out of the race.

Now I do plead guilty to supporting bad candidates in the past, like Eric Cantor who was “practiced at the art of deception” with his talk of Conservatism at home and his inevitable caving in to the well financed special interests, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Progressives in DC. And despite being lied to over and over again, the Eric Cantor Zombies pretend like all is well. And the support for former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, now convicted of corruption, by the same Zombies asking people to “pray” he does not have to pay for the corruption. McDonnell pleading poverty in court and never questioning where his wife got the Rolex watch she “gave” him said it all for most of us. And for those who are not blinded by the party Kool-aid to watch as the Republicans wring their hands and unite in agony at the prospect of $17 tolls in the DC area proposed by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe who sat back in silence when McDonnell pushed through the largest tax hike in Virginia history, the hypocrisy is too much to take.

Republicans enable bad behavior and bad politicians by excusing … anything. The hard core establishment Republicans would even condone murder and mayhem if it gets an “R” elected. Or at least turn a blind eye.

And this is what has damaged the Republican brand. And as long as we condone poor judgement we will continue to elect poor representatives who are not interested in the people they represent until election time.

So when I first broke the story that State Senate Candidate Siobhan Dunnavant had used her patient list to send out a letter both informing her patients of the possibility that she would be elected a state senator and what to expect, most, including myself, saw no problem with that. However, Dunnavant went on to solicit campaign help, sign placement and even an attempt to solicit money. And the kicker was, the letter was paid for not by her office or the practice, but by her campaign.

And I read some of the comments claiming that she released no diagnostic information. And that is both true and irrelevant. Name and address are personally identifiable information and their disclosure to Dunnavant’s campaign may be a violation. At least there was enough for HHS to open an investigation to examine the details.

I did an interview with the online publication Healthcare Information Security who covers these types of stories. I recommend those that do not believe there was a problem with this letter to her patients read this article. The reporter was very knowledgeable on HIPAA law and security and spoke to a number of others about this case.

Privacy attorney Adam Greene of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine says Dunnavant’s alleged use of patient information raises several HIPAA compliance concerns.

“HHS interprets HIPAA to cover demographic information held by a HIPAA-covered healthcare provider if it is in a context that indicates that the individuals are patients of the provider,” he notes. “Healthcare providers must be careful when using patient contact information to mail anything to the patient – even if no specific diagnostic or payment information is used. If a patient’s address is used to send marketing communications or other communications unrelated to treatment, payment, or healthcare operations without the patient’s authorization, then this may be an impermissible use of protected health information under HIPAA.”

If patient contact information is shared with someone else, such as a political campaign, that also could be a HIPAA violation, Greene adds. “The same information that can be found in a phone book – to the extent anyone uses phone books – may be restricted in the hands of healthcare providers.”

Privacy attorney David Holtzman, vice president of compliance at the security consulting firm CynergisTek, notes that the HIPAA Privacy Rule has “a blanket prohibition” on a HIPAA covered entity disclosing the protected health information of their patients without first seeking authorization of the individual – except where specifically permitted or required by the rule.

“There is no provision in the privacy rule where a healthcare provider who is a HIPAA covered entity can disclose patient information to a political campaign,” he points out.

Because of those restrictions, federal regulators will carefully scrutinize the case, Holtzman predicts. “It is likely that OCR will look closely at the doctor’s correspondence for its communication about her candidacy for political office, how to contact the campaign or obtain campaign products as well as the statement that the letter was paid for and authorized by the campaign organization.”

An OCR investigation into the alleged violations of the HIPAA Privacy Rule could result in HHS imposing a civil monetary penalty, Holtzman notes. “There are criminal penalties under the HIPAA statute for ‘knowingly obtaining or disclosing identifiable health information in violation of the HIPAA statute,'” he adds.

Potential Penalties

Offenses committed with the intent to view, transfer or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain or malicious harm are punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years, Holtzman notes.

So for the naysayers, HIPAA laws are no joke and protecting patient privacy is a serious business. $250,000 and up to 10 years in jail is not something to laugh off. Everyone I have talked to in the medical field has been flabbergasted that Dunnavant would send such a letter through her campaign. And as attorney Adam Greene noted above, the correspondence itself is limited in the scope as to what can be sent to patients covered under HIPAA. And he also notes that political campaign are not exempted.

While the mindset that any “R” is better than any “D” is one I can’t argue with most of the time, when it is combined with the so called 11th Commandment of Ronald Reagan, it becomes a tool of ennoblement for bad legislators. The 11th Commandment is used to shut up Republicans and thwart any criticism because “we don’t speak ill of our fellow Republicans”.

Well, we should. This is not 1980 and there are few politicians or elected officials who could hold a candle to the integrity Reagan brought to the Oval Office. We should be critical of bad judgement and poor decisions because we are electing people who will have the ability to tax and spend us into oblivion and take away our rights.

But the Republicans, by and large, turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the shenanigans their fellow Republicans practice in office and in elections. Here in Richmond we have Republicans skipping committee meetings so that a tax hike can clear the committee and they can still claim that they have never voted for a tax hike. And in Washington, does anyone actually know how many “show votes” the Republicans have taken to repeal Obamacare? None of these bills ever had a shot of reaching the Senate floor under Harry Reid and  Mitch McConnell is no different.

And closer to home, my home in Patrick Henry’s back yard Hanover County we have the most developer friendly Board of Supervisors in the history of the county. High density low income housing is springing up everywhere. Most of the occupants of these “projects” will vote not for Republicans, but for Democrats. So with every mass housing project not only is the board and the planning commission increasing the blueness of the County, they are adding to the burden on police, fire and ultimately the taxpayer’s pocketbooks.

And of course, in Hanover, Reagan’s 11th Commandment does not apply to Conservatives. Nancy Russell, the Chairman of the GOP Committee is on a constant prowl to remove Republicans from the Committee. Especially those of us who demand a high standard for elected officials.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo published a brilliant and stinging piece at Breitbart. He wrote that he was quitting the Republican Party:

This decision has been incubating over the past 17 years, years of watching the downward spiral of the Party of Lincoln and Reagan into the Party of Democrat Lite.

  • As a Member of Congress for ten years (1998-2008), I was subjected to threats and pressures from the Congressional Leadership and President George W. Bush to support the creation of an expensive Medicare prescription drug program–even though creating a new government spending program financed by massive debt flies in the face of the Republican Party’s core principles.

  • Our most powerful and influential “leaders” were shoving this down our throats in a crass political effort to use taxpayer money to buy the votes of senior citizens–particularly in the state of Florida in the next presidential election.

  • I was incredulous about the fact that the most intense lobbying I had ever seen undertaken by our “leadership” was not an effort to limit government or the dollars it spends; it was to do just the opposite.

  • That incident came just months after I was told by President Bush’s top political operative, Karl Rove, “never to darken the door of the White House again” because of my criticism of the administration’s dangerously lax immigration policies in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

And I feel his pain. There may have been a time that I believed any Republican was better than any Democrat. But I have come to realize that they are the same. And sometimes the best we can do is look to their decisions as a clue as to the way they will act in office. And if they have shown poor judgement, weed them out. (And I am writing in generic terms here, not specifically about Dunnavant.)

Most Republicans feel like they can do whatever they want and the rank and file will keep their mouths shut. Or even worse, defend them.

And the Republican brand has suffered as a result of Republicans failing to police their own. And the lack of trust that Independents have for the Republican party will continue to grow until the sickness of silence is purged from the party.

I plan to remain a whistle-blower regardless of party as long as that is needed.


About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog. Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

14 Responses to “Siobhan Dunnavant HIPAA Investigation Exposes GOP Sickness”

  1. Katherine T. says:

    I work in healthcare & I can tell you with absolute certainity that the HHS HIPPA investigation will continue. Especially considering the fact that we have the most ultra-partisan governor ever. Just look at all the ducking & dodging he’s doing to make sure the corrupt funding of the democrat’s baby called Planned Parenthood continues.

    This is a VERY serious matter!

  2. Paul Thiel says:

    Right on Tom ! Chesterfield here we come-now we are justified in making it happen even Sooner.

  3. Piano Player says:

    Amazed by your article. Very useful input that will help my knowledge regarding this issue. Thanks!


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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