Federal authorities are investigating claims that former attorney general Eric Holder’s wife, an obstetrician, violated health privacy laws by misusing her former patients’ records to help promote her new menopause relief business.
The Department of Health and Human Services’s Office for Civil Rights opened the investigation in June into the alleged breach, which may have impacted up to 27,000 patients at Dr. Sharon Malone’s former medical practice, Foxhall Associates, according to HHS records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
Foxhall, which is conducting its own investigation and alerted HHS to the breach last month, claims Malone retained a list of its patients’ names, contacts, and insurance information after leaving the practice in December 2020.
Malone’s legal troubles come as her husband, who led the Department of Justice for six years and is now one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent activist attorneys, has denounced the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as “an attack on women and on every citizen’s right to privacy” and called for Democrats to pack the court with left-leaning judges.
Malone allegedly turned over the records to her new employer, Alloy, a telehealth start-up that she helped launch in 2021, which used the information to send out marketing emails.
Now the case is pitting Foxhall, a high-end women’s health practice with an elite clientele in Washington, D.C., against Malone and Alloy, a buzzy, menopause prescription start-up founded by a former editor in chief of Marie Claire with $3.3 million in seed funding last year.
Alloy’s CEO has insisted that Malone retained the records legitimately from Foxhall—a claim that the medical practice’s lawyer vehemently denied to the Free Beacon.
Health privacy experts told the Free Beacon that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, prohibits marketing to patients without their consent—and Malone could face steep financial penalties if the HHS investigation leads to charges.
“It’s hard to see how they can wriggle out of being charged with a HIPAA violation,” said Abner Weintraub, a longtime HIPAA compliance consultant. “Consent is required from a patient.”
“Unless the doctor who took the records had a good excuse, and it would have to be a damn good one in this situation … [they could face] significant fines and penalties,” added Weintraub, noting that the fines could reach six figures and open the door to additional civil litigation by patients.
HHS did not respond to a request for comment.
In December 2020, Malone left Foxhall Medicine, where she had been a physician and co-owner. But she kept a list of patients, including names, phone numbers, email addresses, and medical insurance providers without the firm’s knowledge, according to a newspaper legal notice that Foxhall published as part of a federal requirement on June 27.
Malone went on to join Alloy as its chief medical officer ahead of its 2021 launch. She “turned the list over to [Alloy], who then sent out emails to a portion of the Foxhall patients on the list,” according to the legal notice. Foxhall said it discovered the breach after receiving complaints from patients.
But Alloy denied that Malone obtained the Foxhall records improperly.
Alloy co-CEO Monica Molenaar told the husband of one angry patient, who had emailed the company to complain, that “Dr. Malone did not steal any patient information. She was given a list of emails by the practice coordinator of what she was told were her patients so that we could give them an update,” according to a copy of the July 14 email obtained by the Free Beacon.
“A small portion of that list received an email from us and that is it. No other information was given, taken or used,” added Molenaar.
But a lawyer for Foxhall told the Free Beacon that it “never provided any patient information to Alloy” and “never provided any patient information to Dr. Malone after Dr. Malone left the practice.”
“Dr. Malone, to our understanding, based on the investigation that we have conducted, retained patient information after she left the practice,” said attorney Christopher Ezold.
Alloy’s founder, Anne Fulenwider, the former editor in chief of Marie Claire, told the Free Beacon that she was “totally happy to talk about this with you” when reached by phone last week. But she said she was running into a meeting and unable to discuss at the moment. She did not respond to follow-up requests for comment.
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