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Wiley Rein’s Kirk Nahra Discusses HIPAA Ramifications of AOL CEO’s 401(k) Remarks

The Wire
February 12, 2014

Kirk J. Nahra, chair of Wiley Rein’s Privacy Practice and co-chair of the Health Care Practice, was quoted in The Wire on February 10 regarding the fallout from AOL chief executive officer’s Tim Armstrong’s controversial comments about the company’s 401(k) policy.

Armstrong proposed changing AOL’s retirement plan policy, blaming two “distressed babies” for raising benefits costs to an unwanted level.  The remark drew backlash and some have alleged that Armstrong violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) privacy regulations with his comments.  While the CEO did not name the individuals with the ailing children by name, critics say their identities can be easily uncovered through the remarks.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may investigate the incident.

Discussing the prospects of a potential HHS investigation, Mr. Nahra told The Wire that it is “mainly going to depend on where the information came from.”  The article notes that Armstrong could have received the information about the babies’ health care costs through a legal report, but if the report did not identify the children in question and Mr. Armstrong then decided to dig deeper, he may have run afoul of the law.  Because of the many variables of the situation, Mr. Nahra predicted that the chances that Mr. Armstrong would be accused of a major violation are “exceedingly small.”

Click here to read the article.