As the chief civil legal officer of the state, my job is to represent the people of the state of Connecticut to protect the public interest. The Office of Attorney General also serves as legal counsel to all state agencies. My staff has done outstanding work in 2012 and those efforts will continue in 2013 as we focus on our critical missions: representing and vigorously advocating for the interests of the state and its citizens; ensuring that state government acts within the letter and spirit of the law; protecting public resources for present and future generations; preserving and enhancing the quality of life of all our citizens and safeguarding the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.
Working with senior staff, Deputy Attorney General Nora Dannehy and I have identified several priorities for 2013 that will help save taxpayer dollars and protect the personal privacy rights and financial interests of Connecticut citizens.
First, we have consolidated the former Antitrust and Health Care Fraud/Whistleblower units into a single Antitrust and Government Program Fraud department, headed by Assistant Attorney General Michael Cole. Health-care fraud costs the state millions of dollars and prosecuting those responsible has long been a priority of the office. However, the consolidation will allow the office to aggressively pursue all government program fraud, as well as certain civil, white-collar type violations of state law.
One goal of the new department is working to improve communication and coordination with the other federal and state agencies involved in health care fraud investigations to make the process more efficient and effective. The attorney general’s website will have new information about government program fraud, including the Connecticut False Claims Act, and a new electronic fraud reporting form for members of the public to provide tips, complaints or information about suspected fraud.
Also, the department is expanding its outreach and education efforts to the agencies, providers, facilities and trade associations involved in the provision of health care goods and services. The focus is to provide them with information on the false claims act; the types of conduct that may violate the act; what kind of cases can be pursued and the remedies and possible sanctions that may result. The department also will engage in proactive enforcement efforts with state agencies to identify problem areas that can be corrected before fraud occurs. My office will also be seeking a legislative change to the Connecticut Antitrust Act to enable the office, in certain circumstances, to use documents and information produced by a person in the course of an investigation, in the deposition of a third-party.
Digital Privacy Issues
A second priority is privacy and data security. The multidisciplinary Privacy Task Force I created investigated a number of data breaches in 2012 and worked to enforce the state’s privacy and data security laws.
As importantly, the task force members met with businesses large and small to discuss their data security and privacy practices. The information was gathered through many face-to-face meetings, roundtable discussions and in panel discussions at industry events across the state and the country. In 2013, we expect that work to continue and plan to publish a small business bulletin about best practices in data security. We have found these outreach efforts to be successful, and the business community has responded positively.
At our request, state law was changed last year to require my office be notified when a data security breach occurred. To lessen the burden on business, we posted a notification page on our website with directions detailing the information that should be included and a separate email address to which notifications could be sent. As a result, most of the notifications have been complete, making the review process more timely and efficient.
The security of protected health information will be an active area in 2013, as more providers transition to electronic records. The law requires that patient information be protected and my office will continue to work to protect consumers from violations of their rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
The task force is closely following data security and privacy legislation at the state and federal level, including changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and proposed national cyber-security legislation. We expect to discuss potential legislation in our state to better protect consumers and their personal information.
A third priority will be continuing efforts to mitigate the impact of the foreclosure crisis, which has affected the economic recovery in Connecticut and the rest of the country. I am proud to report that Connecticut has received significant benefits under the historic $25 billion national mortgage foreclosure settlement that I helped to negotiate last year, including more than $28 million in cash payments and more than $185 million in debt relief for approximately 3,000 borrowers. Further debt relief is expected for many more Connecticut homeowners. I serve on the settlement Monitoring Committee, which is working with the independent monitor to ensure that the five largest banks and mortgage service companies who signed the settlement, meet their obligations, including full compliance with the servicing standards and consumer relief requirements. In addition, my office will continue to investigate and, where appropriate, bring enforcement actions against those entities responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and those who engaged in foreclosure abuses.
Although these program areas may be emphasized, my staff will continue to meet its core mission – providing high-quality legal representation to the state. Connecticut and its residents are well served by the office’s dedicated staff. It is my honor and a privilege to serve with them.•