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Jan. 27, 2011 Volume 32, No. 17

Computer error sends UM health-benefits records to wrong people


Malfunction aligned names with wrong addresses

A computer glitch caused personal health information about participants in the University of Missouri’s Choice Health Care Program to be mailed to the wrong addresses earlier this month.

According to Coventry Health Care, which administers the university’s medical benefits plans, a computer malfunction aligned names with the wrong addresses. The  error caused benefit statements, health services letters and new ID cards to be mailed to the wrong persons. While some of these items contained personal information, such as name, member number and birth date, no Social Security numbers of the participants were disclosed.

The problem only involved Choice Health Care Program members and did not affect participants in the Catastrophic Medical Program or the Retiree Indemnity Medical Program. In addition, none of the services included mental health or pharmacy services.

Several hundred people were notified of the mistake earlier this month. Roman Kulich, President and CEO of Coventry Health Care/GHP in St. Louis, said Coventry discovered that the computer error occurred sometime between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10.

“After correcting the error, we began working with officials to notify those affected,” Kulich said. “In addition, we implemented new system safeguards to prevent this type of error from happening again.”

According to a statement from Kelly Stuck, who oversees UM faculty and staff benefits programs, an employee brought the matter to the attention of university officials on Jan. 14. They immediately contacted Coventry to find out what had happened. On Jan. 20, Coventry provided university officials with an explanation of the situation and answers to some of their questions. The university then mailed letters to employees affected by the software error on Jan. 21 to apprise them of the situation.

“We are clearly concerned by this, as the privacy of health plan participants’ information is of the utmost importance to us,” said Stuck. “We have asked Coventry to take steps to attempt to recover the misdirected mail, and we have provided participants affected by this error with steps they can take to protect themselves.”

She said these measuresinclude: asking health providers to confirm the identity of individuals seeking services under their insurance number and to carefully review Coventry correspondence just as they would their credit card statements to ensure services actually have been provided.

Coventry is cooperating fully with the university, Stuck said, and “has assured us that this matter is their highest priority.”

Stuck said that employees who received one of the early-January Coventry communications in error should call Coventry Member Services at 1-800-613-7721 to receive a postage-paid envelope for use in returning the misdirected mail.