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UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FOCUS is a blog written by and for UPPO members, featuring diverse perspectives and insights from unclaimed property practitioners across the U.S. and Canada. We welcome your submissions to Unclaimed Property Focus. Please contact Tim Dressen via tim@uppo.org with any questions about submitting a blog post for consideration and refer to our editorial guidelines when writing your blog post. Disclaimer: Information and/or comments to this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice on compliance or reporting requirements.

 

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HIPAA and Unclaimed Property

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is intended, in part, to protect patients’ privacy. The law establishes standards for handling and securing potentially sensitive protected health information (PHI).

 

HIPAA is not typically associated with unclaimed property. However, for property holders in the health care field or that work with the health care field, it’s important to understand HIPAA implications. Considerations related to HIPAA most often come into play when dealing with an audit or a voluntary disclosure agreement. Auditors or VDA administrators may ask for information that, when shared, could violate HIPAA provisions.

 

HIPAA precludes covered entities, such as health plans, insurers and providers from disclosing PHI to third parties, with a few narrow exceptions. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, PHI includes demographic information relating to:

  • An individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition.
  • The provision of health care to the individual.
  • Payment for health care that may identify the individual.

 

PHI includes common identifiers, such as name, address, birth date and Social Security number, when they can be associated with health information. It can also include identifiers that could be used to trace an account to a specific medical issue, such as internal account numbers.

 

“There is a general prohibition on disclosure of records dealing with mental health, substance abuse treatment, genetic testing and HIV/AIDS under HIPAA and various federal and state laws, absent patient consent,” said Scott Heyman, partner with Sidley Austin LLP. “Those laws are very strict and without exception. Even if exceptions are available for providing other PHI to third parties, they are not available for those conditions.”

 

HIPAA violations are subject to civil and criminal penalties, so great care needs to be taken to ensure compliance.

 

Three exceptions to PHI disclosure without patient consent exist under HIPAA:

  • Disclosure to public health authorities.
  • Disclosure in health oversight activities.
  • Disclosure for law enforcement purposes.

 

State treasurers and controllers conducting unclaimed property audits are not public health authorities and are not engaged in health oversight activities, so the first two exceptions do not apply. 

 

The “disclosure for law enforcement purposes” exception is broad enough to cover unclaimed property audits. In order to disclose information under the law enforcement exception: 

  • PHI sought must be “relevant and necessary to a legitimate law enforcement inquiry.”
  • The request must be ”specific and limited in scope to the extent reasonably practicable in light of the purpose for which the information is sought.” 
  • “Deidentified information could not be reasonably be used.” 

 

Disclosure is permitted only to law enforcement officials, defined as “an officer or employee” of an eligible agency. Thus, PHI may not be disclosed to private government contractors without patient consent. In contrast, the public health and health oversight exceptions expressly permit disclosure of information to government contractors. 

 

PHI should be retracted from items provided to auditors. 

 

“If they insist that they need PHI for audit purposes, providing the information directly to the state and letting the state decide what to do with it may be a reasonable response,” Heyman said.

 

Redaction can be very time-consuming and one of the more burdensome aspects of an unclaimed property audit in the health care industry. 

 

“Often the information at issue includes things like explanations of benefits, where you’re proving out voids and reissuances,” said Heyman. “Those tend to be copies of paper documents. It means reading those documents and crossing out PHI with a black marker. It’s an intensively manual process, and knowing which boxes contain PHI and which don’t, and blacking them out appropriately, is essential.”  

 

Holders should refer to information from HHS for guidance on de-identifying PHI.

 

Unclaimed property compliance and audits are rarely simple. For holders in the health care space, HIPAA adds yet another compliance layer. 

 

The 2019 UPPO Annual Conference, March 24-27 in New Orleans, will include industry breakouts and an industry focus session for holders in the health care industry to discuss audit trends and compliance issues affecting them. Learn more and register today.

 

 

Tags:  audits  health care  HIPAA  unclaimed property 

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Five Emerging Securities Audit Trends

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 15, 2018

Unclaimed property holders in any industry may be subject to audit, but the nuances of the audit will vary depending on the property types involved. For holders working with securities, several audit practices are becoming more common. 

 

Transfer Agent Record Requests 

Auditors examining transfer agents are increasingly requesting documentation about their issuer clients. Those records belong to the securities issuer, so the transfer agent should not provide such records without their clients’ authority.  

 

Overreaching Requests

Auditors often ask for information that is not necessary to determine which shareholder accounts could be considered unclaimed property. For example, requests for contracts with transfer agents or search firms retained to locate share owners, account open dates and shareholder Social Security numbers are not relevant to establishing whether accounts represent unclaimed property. 

 

“Holders can push back on overreaching requests,” said Freda Pepper, counsel for Reed Smith LLP. “Just because an auditor is requesting information doesn’t mean it’s relevant and that it’s appropriate to be provided.” 

 

Long Silences

After providing large amounts of information to auditors, holders may not hear from them again for months. In some cases, such “radio silence” may continue for years. Some holders may choose to “let sleeping dogs lie,” while others prefer to seek confirmation that the audit has ended. 

 

Follow-up Requests

When following up on information the holder submitted, auditors often seek: 

  • Proof of contact, including system-generated reports or screenshots.
  • Proof that contact is actually “owner generated,” demonstrating that it was sufficient to restart the dormancy period. 
  • Cash transaction history. 
  • Date of last first-class mailing, proven with a screenshot.
  • Additional escheat filing detail. Auditors often ask for unclaimed property reports that have been filed within the past two years, which is unusual since the states they are representing already have this information. Increasingly, they are also requesting a preview reports before the next escheat report deadline. 

    “From a practical and logistical standpoint, doing a one-off preview report early in the cycle may be costly or not feasible, so holders may wish to push back on such requests,” Pepper said. 

 

Death Master File Use

As a result of success in the life insurance industry, auditors are increasingly using the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File as an audit tool for securities audits as well. Comparing records to the DMF, they seek to determine holders who may be deceased and accounts that are overdue to the state as unclaimed property. States and their auditors argue that the dormancy period for unclaimed property begins upon the date of death rather than the triggers established by state law. 

 

After identifying potentially deceased property owners, auditors claim the burden shifts to the holder to prove an account is active. Holders may choose to remove Social Security numbers from information provided to the state and its auditors for this reason. However, providing only names may result in even more work. Auditors may run account owner names against the DMF, receive false positive hits for common names and insist the holder prove such account owners with matching names are still alive. 

 

The 2019 UPPO Annual Conference will feature industry-specific breakout and educational sessions that offer attendees the chance to discuss and learn about trends facing the industries in which they work. Multiple educational sessions, including Audit 101, Third-Party Auditor Differences, and Estimation Under Audits and VDA, will also focus on audit trends. Visit UPPO’s Annual Conference website for details and registration. 

Tags:  Audits  securities 

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Unclaimed Property News Roundup

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 29, 2018

Unclaimed property continues to make headlines. Following is a recap of some recent stories getting news coverage from local and national media outlets.

 

Illinois bill raises debate about contingency fee audits

On March 12, The State Journal-Register discussed arguments for and against Illinois S.B. 2901, a bill that would, among other things, prohibit the state from hiring auditors on a contingency fee basis.

 

Minnesota Supreme Court tackles the state’s efforts to find owners and treatment of interest-bearing property

On March 7, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio’s NewsCut blog covered a Minnesota Supreme Court decision regarding the state’s handling of unclaimed funds. The court ruled that the state takes adequate steps to reunite owners with their property, but that it owes owners the interest they would have earned from property originating from interest-bearing accounts.

 

Bitcoin lawsuit raises issues about virtual currency as unclaimed property

In early March, numerous online publications, including Ars Technica, covered a series of lawsuits against cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase. One of the cases claims the company pocketed unclaimed virtual funds rather than escheating them to California.

 

New PBGC program provides new option for sponsors of terminating 401(k) plan

On Jan. 31, 2018, Bloomberg discussed a new program from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation aimed at reuniting property owners with funds from terminated 401(k) plans.

 

Looking for your missing Donovan McNabb jersey?

Spurred by state treasurers’ efforts, local news outlets often remind readers to search unclaimed property lists for funds they may be owed. Using this year’s Super Bowl as an angle for drawing attention to unclaimed property, Pennsylvania’s treasurer received coverage in The Inquirer by focusing on unclaimed Philadelphia Eagles memorabilia, presumably from abandoned safe deposit boxes.  

 

Tags:  audits  cryptocurrency  retirement accounts  safe deposit boxes 

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Record Retention Strategies

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 25, 2018

Proper record retention is an essential part of any unclaimed property compliance program. Not only do state laws require holders to retain appropriate records, but doing so also provides an audit defense and can help avoid the use of estimation for determining unclaimed property liability.

 

“All states have some kind of requirement as it relates to the retention of unclaimed property records,” said Laurie Andrews, CFE, senior manager for Keane. “Failure to maintain those records can cause problems. In the event you are audited, it will make the audit much more burdensome and lead to extrapolations for periods where your records are unavailable. It’s far easier to keep and maintain records than to try to find them or recreate them when faced with an audit.”

 

Retained records are intended to demonstrate a holder’s historical compliance efforts. Records created at the time of reporting and properly maintained meet the burden of proof when being audited and provide a more powerful audit defense.

 

As with all areas of unclaimed property compliance, requirements for record retention vary from state to state. The Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, which provides model requirements for states to consider, calls for holders to retain:

  • Information required to be included on the report by state law.
  • The date, place and nature of circumstances giving rise to the owner’s property right.
  • The value of the property.
  • The last address of the owner, if known.
  • For traveler’s checks, money orders, or similar instruments, the record of the state and date of issue.

In the event of an audit, unclaimed property holders need records to demonstrate compliance for a lookback period that often spans the dormancy period plus 10 years—sometimes longer, depending on the state conducting the audit.

 

Holders can take several steps to maintain effective record retention practices. In addition to generating and maintaining good records, indexing them effectively helps ensure you or future employees can locate them when needed.

 

“It can be tough understanding and recreating records from a period when you weren’t involved in the process,” Andrews said. “When you’re creating, filing or indexing records, think of the people who will be reviewing them many years from now. If you maintain records with no supporting documentation or explanation, it’s going to be difficult for your successor to understand the historical data.”

 

Include record retention documentation within company policies and procedures. The unclaimed property compliance team may understand the need for maintaining specific records, but others may not. This could lead to record destruction practices that unintentionally increase unclaimed property risk.

 

Develop and enforce policies that protect records from destruction and alteration. If information needs to be added to records, it should be done in the same location where the records are stored. If the record exists in both a hard copy and electronic copy, added information should be attached to both.

 

If a third-party administrator manages the escheatment process, request and maintain copies of unclaimed property reports filed on your behalf. The holder is ultimately responsible for compliance and needs to ensure such records are properly retained.

 

Annually review record retention policies and periodically communicate them to anyone involved. Doing so helps ensure procedures stay current with changing requirements and that employees don’t forget about the importance of unclaimed property records. Occasionally verify that proper record backup processes are in place, reducing the threat of losing valuable data.

 

While all of this effort to retain records may seem daunting, evaluate the cost of retention versus the audit exposure created by not retaining records. Developing, following and monitoring record retention procedures may seem daunting, and storing records for long periods of time can be costly. However, the potential liability created when records are unavailable, and the effort required to recreate them when an audit occurs, likely make the cost and effort worthwhile.

 

For additional insight into record retention, attend the Technology & Record Retention and Developing Your Policies & Procedures sessions at the UPPO Annual Conference, March 4-7, 2018, in Tampa, Florida.

 

 

 

 

Tags:  audits  record retention 

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Unclaimed Property Trends Shape Annual Conference Sessions

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 8, 2018

For better or worse, this is not a dull time to be an unclaimed property professional. In recent years, numerous state legislatures have considered (and often approved) updating their unclaimed property statutes. Courts continue to look at state unclaimed property practices, including controversial audit practices. And companies from coast to coast and border to border face the ongoing challenge of minimizing their unclaimed property risk.

 

Throughout 2017, UPPO helped members keep up with the trends affecting unclaimed property professionals. Many of these same trends shape the agenda for the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference, March 4-7, 2018, in Tampa, Florida.

 

Delaware

In February 2017, Delaware Gov. John Carney signed S.B. 13 into law, triggering significant changes to the state’s unclaimed property practices. Since then, the state has adopted new audit rules and encouraged holders currently under audit to convert to the state’s VDA program.

 

As we approach the one-year mark since S.B. 13, its effects continue to unfold. The Delaware Reforms: One Year Later session at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will examine the status of changes in Delaware and their ramifications. The Advocacy Efforts in the Age of Reform session will shine a light on UPPO’s work to promote fair unclaimed property requirements not only in Delaware, but in all states.

 

Audits

Fueled by activity in Delaware, controversy continues to swirl around state audit practices. The use of third-party auditors incentivized by contingency fees has been the focus of litigation and advocacy efforts. As states update their unclaimed property statutes, some, such as Michigan, are enacting new audit standards. Some states also help offer a fairer playing field for holders by providing the opportunity to appeal audit assessments. The examination process, particularly that of multi-state audits, often strains holder resources, as it stretches over several years.  

 

The Audit 101, Navigating Your Audit and Mock Trial sessions, along with several of the Industry Focus sessions, at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will provide attendees with insight into strategies holders can employ when facing examination.

 

Litigation

The courts have provided several favorable rulings for holders in recent months. Appeals court rulings in cases brought by Plains All American Pipeline, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Marathon Petroleum have yielded positive results. Similar cases, including those brought by Office Depot and the multi-state squabble over MoneyGram official checks, continue to proceed through the courts.

 

Attendees at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will learn about these and other relevant litigation trends during the Legislative and Litigation Update session.

 

Operational Practices

In addition to exploring unclaimed property trends, the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference agenda is packed with sessions to provide practical knowledge attendees can apply to be more effective at their jobs. Sessions will examine a wide range of topics, including: state reporting basics, managing due diligence, self-assessments, record retention, exemptions and deductions, fraud, policies and procedures, foreign jurisdictions and much more.

 

View complete details about educational sessions and other 2018 UPPO Annual Conference events. The early-bird registration deadline is Jan. 10, so register today for the best rate.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  litigation  trends 

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