Postings on this blog series have been following the continuing parade of security and privacy breaches of Protected Health Information (“PHI”) that have been reported on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services list (the “HHS List”) of breaches of unsecured PHI affecting 500 or more individuals. On March 30, 2012, a large data security breach (the “Utah Breach”) that has not yet been posted on the HHS List was experienced by the Utah Department of Technology Services (“DTS”) on a computer server (the “DTS Server”) that stores Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) claims data.
DTS detected the Utah Breach on Monday, April 2, 2012 after the putative thieves began removing data from the DTS Server. Upon detection, DTS stated that it immediately shut down the DTS Server, has identified where the breakdown in security occurred and has implemented new processes to ensure this type of breach will not happen again.
DTS and the Utah Department of Health (“UDOH”) have established a separate Web page to provide “Latest Information” respecting the Utah Breach (the “Update Page”). The Update Page has turned out to be a useful reporting mechanism for what has become a continuously rising count of individuals affected by the Utah Breach. Currently the Update Page reports that “approximately 280,000 victims had their Social Security numbers stolen and approximately 500,000 other victims had less-sensitive personal information stolen.” Therefore, the total current number of identified affected individuals of the Utah Breach appears to be approximately 780,000. However, the various numbers of victims reflected on the Update Page are somewhat confusing, possibly due at least in part to the addition on a serial basis of newly discovered victims.
Information on the DTS Server included claims payment and eligibility inquiries regarding potential Medicaid and CHIP claimants. According to UDOH:
This could include sensitive, personal health information from individuals and health care providers such as Social Security numbers, names, dates of birth, addresses, diagnosis codes, national provider identification numbers, provider taxpayer identification numbers, and billing codes.
Interestingly, UDOH and DTS have made a clear distinction as to the assistance and support that they will provide to identified victims of the Utah Breach. Victims who had their Social Security numbers (“SSNs”) stolen will be offered one year of free credit monitoring services. Those victims of the Utah Breach who did not have SSNs stolen will not be offered free credit monitoring services, even though they have had other information compromised that has been characterized by UDOH as “less-sensitive.” Moreover, those who had SSNs stolen will receive priority in being alerted as to the Utah Breach over those victims who did not have stolen SSNs.
The Utah Breach is not the first large PHI breach experienced by UDOH. The HHS List reports that on March 1, 2010, UDOH had an "Unauthorized Access/Disclosure" affecting 1,298 individuals respecting "Computer, Paper." The HHS List also reflects that Utah Department of Workforce Services was involved as a Business Associate in the 2010 UDOH PHI breach.
It is possible that the current offering by UDOH of free credit monitoring services only to those Utah Breach victims who had stolen SSNs may be reevaluated or changed in the future. This blog series has previously reported the abrupt about-face by SAIC to offer credit monitoring services to the millions of victims of its large 2011 PHI breach after pressure by the Department of Defense to do so.