Wis. mailing sent with personal info

January 8, 2008

By Scott Bauer


Social Security numbers were printed on about 260,000 informational brochures sent by a vendor hired by the state to recipients of SeniorCare and other state programs.

The gaffe is the second time in 13 months that mailings including the recipients' Social Security numbers were sent from state departments. In December 2006, the state Department of Revenue mailed 171,000 tax booklets with the number printed on the label.

The latest mailing was first reported on Tuesday by WKOW-TV.

The state Department of Health and Family Services issued a statement saying the mistake was the fault of EDS, a private vendor for state Medicaid services. Karen Timberlake, deputy secretary of the state department, said the mailing went to about 260,000 Medicaid, SeniorCare, and BadgerCare members.

"We are appalled that EDS made this mistake," Timberlake said. "We take our responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of our members very seriously -- and we expect our contractors to do the same."

Timberlake said the department was assured by EDS that it would provide free credit monitoring to anyone affected. Within days those affected will receive more information, she said.

The statement did not say whether the state would review its contract with EDS or explain how the error occurred. It also did not say when the mailings were sent, where in the state they were mailed or what information they contained.

A message left with a department spokeswoman seeking additional comments was not immediately returned.

Jane Marvin, 66, of Sun Prairie received the 11-page mailing, titled "Wisconsin Medicaid and BadgerCare recipient update" and dated January 2008. She said it contained information about the state's new BadgerCare Plus program.

Marvin also was among those whose Social Security number was included on the tax mailing in 2006.

"I've gotten pretty cautious because I had the tax form last year," Marvin said. "Any more when my husband or I get any mail with our names on it I tear it off and I shred it."

But as she examined the mailing more closely, she saw her Social Security number on the label.

"All that to-do last year and the state turns around and does it again," she said. "I got pretty upset. ... Who's not doing their job?"

Marvin said she called Gov. Jim Doyle's office and the department to complain.

"They said somebody would get a hold of me and let me know and I just told them they darn well better," she said.

Marvin signed up for credit monitoring that was offered after the Department of Revenue mailing in 2006. She was one of 20,477 people who received credit monitoring at a total cost of $711,925. Of that, the vendor paid $110,000 and the state paid the rest. There were no reported cases of identity theft, said department spokeswoman Jessica Iverson.

There was another security breach in February 2007 when a list was stolen from a legislative employee's car containing the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of state lawmakers and their aides.

State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, asked after the Department of Revenue mailing that an audit be done on how the government uses, maintains and protects personal information. He renewed that call again after the latest case.

"You yell for it now," he said. "You don't call for anything. You scream for it. Hey, dummies get it right."

Kanavas said government needs to be held to a higher standard.

"This has the potential to ruin people's lives," he said. "I have absolutely no idea why it's so difficult to keep this information private."

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