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11/11/2009
02:26 PM
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Blue Cross Blue Shield Data Breach Investigated

Connecticut's attorney general is looking for tougher protection for healthcare providers after records, which could be useful to identity thieves, were lost.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating Blue Cross Blue Shield's loss of confidential information, including tax identification and Social Security numbers, for 800,000 healthcare providers nationwide.

The attorney general is also seeking additional identity theft protection for affected doctors, therapists, and other professionals, according to a statement from the attorney general issued last week.

Blue Cross Blue Shield and its affiliates "may have violated state law by losing the information and failing to notify providers in a timely manner," the AG said. The companies are offering professionals one year of identity theft protection, but Blumenthal said the measures ere "inadequate and unacceptable," demanding at least two years of protection.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one of the targeted companies, said it will extend credit monitoring to two years for affected providers.

The companies lost the information when a laptop was stolen Aug. 25. The computer held information on the companies' providers nationwide, including names, addresses, tax identification and provider numbers, and some Social Security numbers. The theft affected providers nationwide, but the Connecticut AG is investigating on behalf of 18,817 of its Connecticut health care providers.

Blue Cross Blue Shield and its related companies Anthem and Empire failed to inform health care providers until late last month, the AG said

"We are vigorously investigating this appalling data loss, needlessly exposing more than 18,000 Connecticut doctors and professionals to devastating identity theft," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Failing to promptly notify providers of the breach is inexcusable -- and a possible violation of state law. Waiting two months left providers severely at risk -- needlessly and irresponsibly exposing them to financial mayhem."

Blumenthal added, "My office demands a full accounting from Blue Cross Blue Shield -- healthcare providers affected, details of the loss, protections for professionals, policies and procedures for data loss and other information. State laws mandate that companies fully secure sensitive personal information and quickly disclose breaches -- laws the companies may have broken."

Healthcare providers can protect themselves by asking the three major credit rating agencies to place a free "fraud alert" on their credit reports, the AG's office said. The companies are: Equifax - 1-800-525-6285; Experian - 1-888-397-3742; TransUnion - 1-800-680-7289. Healthcare providers can also have major credit rating agencies freeze their credit, preventing new credit from being taken out in their names without express authorizations, in writing by certified mail. Credit bureaus charge $10 to freeze and $12 to temporarily un-freeze credit. The AG will seek reimbursement for those fees.

The national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association "moved swiftly to address this unfortunate and rare occurrence," company spokesman Jeff Smokler said in e-mail. "Within days of discovering the security breach, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association began the in-depth process of notifying our 39 independent licensees and identifying which of their providers were impacted and how. We take very seriously the Attorney General's comments and continue to work to rectify the situation."

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield "takes very seriously its obligation to protect the personal information of members and providers," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

"[W]e believe we acted with all due diligence in order to minimize unnecessary delay of our notice to providers," the company said. "Letters were mailed only after we determined who may have been impacted so as to minimize unnecessary confusion and alarm. In addition, credit monitoring arrangements were made for approximately 18,000 providers, credit monitoring subscription codes were entered into each provider notice letter and customer service and provider representatives were trained so that provider calls could be handled accurately.

Anthem added: "It is important to note that no medical information or Protected Health Information (PHI) was contained in the data. For some providers, their Social Security Number (SSN) was listed in the Tax Identification Number (TIN) data field of the data file, but it was not identified as the provider's SSN. The information on the laptop was limited to professional providers.

"All indications are that this was a random theft. Two other vehicles in the same vicinity were broken into that night as well and the theft was reported to the Chicago Police Department."


Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and a range of large and small healthcare providers are using mobile apps to improve care and help patients manage their health. Find out how. Download the report here (registration required).

 

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