DHHS: Medicaid card error was privacy breach
Posted January 6, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A computer programming error led to almost 49,000 children statewide receiving someone else's Medicaid card last week, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.
DHHS was trying to issue new cards to 70,253 children who were switched from the N.C. Health Choice program to Medicaid under new eligibility rules, but more than half of the cards – 48,752 – went to the wrong Medicaid recipients. The cards show a child's name, Medicaid ID number, date of birth and primary care physician but don't include any Social Security numbers.
Acting Medicaid Director Sandra Terrell said in a statement that the agency developed a program to extract information from a DHHS database, but it used the wrong name and address of parents or guardians, which led to the mailing mistake.
Patricia Dioguardi of Fuquay-Varina said she received a Medicaid card on New Year's Eve for a 16-year-old girl from Burlington named Jesica.
"I want to make sure she gets her Medicaid, but I don't want them having my information," Dioguardi said.
DHHS has notified the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services of the breach of federal health care privacy regulations and will formally notify affected individuals, Terrell said. People also will receive statements of health care services provided using their Medicaid ID number so they can know whether the number has been misused, she said.
Top Democrats in the General Assembly called for DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos to step down, noting that the Medicaid card mistake was the latest in a string of technical foul-ups at the agency under her watch.
"Enough is enough," Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said in a statement. "It’s time for the governor to get his administration in order and bring in someone at DHHS who can simply do the job.”
"There’s no question that the challenges faced by DHHS are significant and complex. That is all the more reason that the agency requires competent leadership with meaningful professional experience," House Minority Leader Larry Hall said in the statement.
WRAL News has also learned of another problem related to the state's Medicaid program. More than 36,700 Medicaid recipients in Orange, Johnston, Chatham and Carteret counties received debit cards for food stamps in the mail, whether they were on the rolls for food stamps or not. DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said the cards had no value, and no personal information was compromised by the mistake.
Gov. Pat McCrory defended Wos and her management team earlier Monday, saying they were trying to address the Medicaid card error as quickly as possible.
"There was an operation breakdown, and I know Secretary Wos and her team are very concerned about this, regarding this error, and they’re taking all necessary steps to fix it," McCrory said. "DHHS is flagging accounts right now to ensure that potential fraud will not occur because of this mistake."
McCrory also tried to shift blame to requirements under the Affordable Care Act, which made more children eligible for Medicaid coverage, and to "years of operational neglect" of DHHS computer systems.
"It’s a brand new thing that we had to do to implement the 'Obamacare' regulations. We’re going to fix it as quick as possible," he said. "Give us a chance to examine exactly what happened and why it happened instead of jumping to conclusions regarding fault and responsibility."
Yet, Wos has already ordered the agency's Office of Human Resources to conduct a "personnel investigation" into the incident. She also asked the state Office of Information Technology Services to conduct an external review of the processes and procedures that led to the mix-up.
People who received an incorrect Medicaid card have been advised to shred it or turn it in to a local Department of Social Services office. The state plans to reissue cards within three weeks, and people can use their old cards until then, officials said.