Social Security Numbers Exposed On Hospital Bills

April 23, 2008

By Lauren Grover, Staff Writer

Some 2,000 medical bills were mailed around East Texas last week with patients' Social Security numbers visible on the envelope after a technical glitch skewed billing at the collection agency used by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

Chief Operating Officer Rob Marshall at UTHSCT said the problem was quickly addressed and fixed, but his disappointment in collection agency CBE Group Inc. might not be repairable.

"We're in negotiations ... I can't confirm or deny that we'll be with (CBE) in the future," he said Tuesday evening. "But we do have a different set of rules on handling issues like this and have already said how to safeguard this in the future."

The number of area residents whose numbers were exposed isn't known because multiple bills could have gone to one patient, said spokeswoman Rhonda Scoby. The Social Security numbers were never floating around the public, but were sent from secure sites at UTHSCT to CBE and then straight to the post office and to the patient's home, she said.

The hospital is taking full responsibility for the error and asking all affected patients to contact their business office, Marshall said.

"It was a small glitch that we absolutely own up to and want to be able to take care of anyone who has issue as a result," he said.

While CBE officials are still investigating the cause of the error, added software and quality control is in place to catch any further malfunction, Marshall said.

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