NC DHHS: Almost 49,000 Medicaid cards with children's personal information mailed incorrectly (update 1)

Michael Biesecker of AP reports:

North Carolina health officials said Friday that they had inadvertently disclosed the personal information of tens of thousands of children receiving Medicaid coverage, but were tight-lipped about precisely what caused the massive privacy breach.

The state Department of Health and Human Services issued a written release saying that new Medicaid cards for nearly 49,000 children were mailed on Dec. 30 to the wrong people. The information on the cards includes the children’s names, Medicaid identification numbers, dates of birth and the names of their primary care doctors — personal medical data that is supposed to be tightly protected under federal law.

Read more on TribTown. There’s no statement on the NC DHHS website as of the time of this posting.  WSOCTV also has coverage of the breach.

So given the risk of medical identity theft, what will NCDHHS offer by way of mitigation?  And was this mailing done internally or did it involve a vendor?

Here is the text of the NC DHHS press release (via an external site):

Friday, January 3, 2014

Raleigh, N.C. – Today, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Acting Medicaid Director Sandra Terrell released the following statement:

Effective January 1, due to new eligibility rules, 70,253 children were switched from NC Health Choice to Medicaid. As a result, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued new Medicaid cards to these affected recipients who transitioned from NC Health Choice to Medicaid.

The Department of Health and Human Services has determined 48,752 of these new Medicaid cards were mailed to the incorrect recipients. The incorrect card shows the child’s name, Medicaid identification number, date of birth and primary care physician.

The Department has begun a careful review of this incident to determine how it occurred and to ensure personal information is protected. DHHS knows exactly which Medicaid cards were sent to which addresses, and is rapidly working to issue correct Medicaid cards.

This incident does not affect Medicaid coverage, and benefits are not affected. Medicaid recipients who have received incorrect Medicaid cards will be sent a correct Medicaid card with specific instructions on what to do with the incorrect Medicaid card. In the meantime, children needing services without a correct Medicaid ID card can use their NC Health Choice ID number or card, which is still valid. Providers are also able to verify eligibility in order to deliver services.

The Department of Health and Human Services takes the privacy of Medicaid recipients very seriously and is working to put measures in place to monitor the use of affected Medicaid cards for potential fraud. We regret this incident occurred and are working to ensure it is corrected as soon as possible.

If individuals have questions about this incident, they are advised to call the DHHS Customer Service Center Number located on the back of their Medicaid card, 1-800-662-7030. Click here for a sample image of a Medicaid card.

Update: Here is a clarification on the timeframe as to when NC DHHS first learned of the breach.

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