Personal information sent to wrong families

November 6, 2007

By Sebastian Kitchen, Capital Bureau

The personal information, including the names, ages and Social Security numbers of more than 1,500 families enrolled in the state's ALL Kids health care coverage program, were accidentally sent to the wrong families last week, officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed Monday.

"We sent out a letter Friday afternoon to the 1,554 affected families alerting them that some of their confidential information might have been released," said Cathy Caldwell, director of the health insurance program. "It wasn't released to the general public. It was within the 1,554 families. Some of them got each others' information."

John Wible, general counsel for the health department, said the agency does not expect to face legal action, but "it's definitely a breach of confidentiality."

"We do take people's confidentiality very seriously, and we all worked very diligently to remediate this and make sure it doesn't happen again, and we believe we have done that," he said.

Wible also serves as the department's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy officer. The act set national standards to protect the privacy of people's medical records and health information.

ALL Kids, operated with state and federal funds, provides health insurance to uninsured children whose family income is from just above the Medicaid eligibility limit up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $41,000 a year for a family of four. Caldwell said 69,000 children are enrolled.

The agency's letter to families included contacts at the Federal Trade Commission and credit reporting bureaus in the event of suspicious activity involving the information.

Caldwell said people must re-enroll in the program annually so the department can determine their eligibility. A private company with a state contract, Graphics and Mailing in Montgomery, printed and mailed the renewal forms, she said.

For the convenience of those enrolled, the personal information is printed on the form so family members do not have to rewrite it, Caldwell said.

Officials with the health department first became aware of the situation on Thursday when families began to call and say they received the information for the wrong family. She said department officials immediately contracted the vendor.

Don Sease, president and owner of Graphics and Mailing, said his company processed 4,000 records a month for the health department for five years and this was the first incident.

Sease said he has been in the business for more than 20 years and "never had this problem." He said a glitch in the computer software caused the mismatching of some people and addresses.

"I apologize for the misdirected information and I wish I had the exact answer for what happened," Sease said. "Unfortunately, at this point, I don't."

Sease said the company did not submit a bid to continue the work for the health department.

"While we regret the situation, it is confined. It was not a general release," Wible said. "We know exactly whose information was released and we know the universe of people to whom it was released. It is not anyone in the world can get this information."

For the families who received the wrong forms, Caldwell said the department will use in-house equipment to print blank renewal forms to send to families. After those are sent, a new vendor, Davis Direct of Montgomery, will assume the role of sending out the forms.

Caldwell said she does not know the cost of the contracts with the two vendors.

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