Thousands of Medicaid cards sent to wrong addresses

Jessica Johnson Civitas News Service

January 8, 2014

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has mailed nearly 50,000 Medicaid cards containing personal information to the wrong addresses, including some in Surry County.

The department, which learned of the problems early last week, released a statement late Friday confirming incorrect Medicaid cards were mailed out. The cards were intended for children who were switched from NC Health Choice to Medicaid. The incorrect cards showed another child’s name, Medicaid identification number, date of birth, and primary care physician, but no social security numbers were present on the incorrect cards.

Of the 70,253 children who were switched from NC Health Choice to Medicaid, 48,752 received cards containing another child’s information, a total of 69 percent of all recipients.

According to another DHHS-issued press release sent out on Monday afternoon, the problem was due to a program that was developed to “extract the information from the database to generate the mailing of new Medicaid cards,” but the program “utilized the incorrect name and address for the parent or responsible adult.”

A statement released on Friday said DHHS had begun a “careful review of the incident to determine how it occurred and to ensure personal information is protected,” and assured that the department knew “exactly which Medicaid cards were sent to which addresses” and were “rapidly working to issue correct Medicaid cards,” and on Monday DHHS announced it would take “approximately three weeks” to mail out a new Medicaid ID card with new numbers to “mitigate misuse.”

Providers and provider associations were reminded by DHHS to verify Medicaid beneficiary’s elgibility and identity each time a service is provided.

While the incident would not affect Medicaid coverage, many concerned local parents were alarmed, placing phone calls to Health and Nutrition Centers and Departments of Social Services across the state, including DSS in Dobson, Family and Children’s Medicaid Supervisor Karen Smith said on Monday afternoon.

Surry County’s Social Services Director Kristy Preston confirmed DSS had received “numerous calls” from concerned parents who received incorrect Medicaid cards.

“The information we are providing to these folks is to mail the incorrect card to our office or bring it by and we would do what needed to be done to send a correct card. If they have a crisis or medical need, we will work with their doctor’s office or providers to make sure they get the treatment they need.” She added that as long as they had their original numbers, there should be no problem, since most doctor’s offices were aware of the mix-up.

DHHS assured those who received incorrect cards that their benefits were not affected, and those who received an incorrect card would be sent a correct card with “specific instructions on what to do with the incorrect” card, and children could “in the meantime” use their NC Health Choice ID number or card, which is still valid.

Also included in the statement was an assurance that DHHS “takes the privacy of Medicaid recipients very seriously” and they were 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,” was the message DHHS issued at the end of the first official statement.

On Jan. 4, the Department of Health and Human Services Acting Medicaid Director Sandra Terrell released more information about the incident, including the news that switching children from NC Health Choice to Medicaid was because of “new eligibility rules and requirements under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)” that took effect on Jan. 1.

The first reports of incorrect cards began to trickle in on Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve, and an automated message was sent out to all county departments of social services, informing them that cards had been issued with incorrect information. Leadership with DHHS was then informed of the issue on Jan. 2, and they requested an analysis to “determine the extent of the problem and its cause.” Last Thursday, it was determined that 48,752 incorrect Medicaid cards were mailed out and the number was confirmed by DHHS on Friday morning.

According to the press release issued by Terrell’s office, staff at DHHS worked through the weekend to further review the incident and send out correct Medicaid cards “as soon as possible.” Since this incident is considered a HIPPA breach, DHHS is meeting legal obligations and following federal laws to “ensure a similar incident cannot happen again.”

In addition, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services were informed of the HIPAA breach and formal letters of notification would be sent to all affected individuals.

New Medicaid cards with new Medicaid ID numbers would be issued. “Additionally, the Medicaid division will flag the affected Medicaid ID cards within DHHS’ computer systems to treat them with extra scrutiny and caution” and would be alerted if the cards were used.

Another press release sent out by DHHS on Monday afternoon assured the public that no social security numbers were released and advised any “parent or responsible adult” who received an incorrect Medicaid card to “immediately destroy it by shredding or cutting it into small pieces.” DHHS also advised the public to turn in their card to their county department of social services if they wish.

DHHS also issued the following statement on Monday:

“DHHS understands parents and responsible adults are concerned about unauthorized activity on the child’s accounts. DHHS will send impacted recipients statements of Medicaid services rendered using their Medicaid ID number. This will help families to know whether the child’s Medicaid number was misused.”

Affected individuals who are concerned about credit fraud were asked to contact one of the following credit bureaus to ask if a fraud alert could be placed on their account: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. If incorrect activity appears on credit reports, affected individuals are urged to file an identity theft report with the local police or sheriff’s department, and copies of the police report may be needed to “clear issues with credit agencies.”

DHHS urged anyone affected by this incident to obtain more information about preventing identity theft by contacting the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Response Center at 877-438-4338 or visit ftc.gov or contact the Consumer Protection Division with the NC Attorney General’s Office at 877-566-7226 or visit ncdoj.gov.

If anyone received the incorrect card or for questions about the incident, call the DHHS Customer Service Center Number located on the back of the Medicaid card, during normal business hours on Monday through Friday, 1-800-662-7030.

Reach Jessica Johnson at jessicajohnson@civitasmedia.com or 719-1933.