State agency HIPAA security gaffe puts patient data on the Internet

Social Security numbers and PHI compromised
By Erin McCann
10:43 AM
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A Texas state agency has come forward to notify its Medicaid recipients that due to security shortfalls, their Social Security numbers and protected health information became accessible on the Internet.

The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, a state agency responsible for administering support and services for the aging individuals and people with disabilities, announced June 11 a data breach following the "unintentional release" of personal data. The breach impacted 6,600 of its Medicaid recipients, state officials said, including the compromise of their names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, Medicaid numbers and clinical diagnoses and treatment information.

[See also: Health system sees 7th HIPAA data breach.]

According to the agency notice, the department was notified that patient information was available via the Internet April 21, 2015. Officials provided no additional details on the incident. As of publication time, they had not responded to Healthcare IT News' inquiries around details of what occurred and whether a third-party vendor was involved.

In the notice, there were no apologies issued from department officials over the incident, but they did indicate they had "strengthened" Web-app security and policies "in an effort to prevent such a breach from occurring again."

To date, nearly 135 million people have had their protected health information compromised in reportable HIPAA breaches, according to data from the Office for Civil Rights, the HHS division responsible for enforcing HIPAA. In this tally, only HIPAA breaches involving 500 or more individuals are counted.

[See also: HIPAA breaches: The list keeps growing and 6 biggest HIPAA breach fines.]

In Texas, specifically, since the HIPAA breach notification rule went into effect in 2009, nearly 3.6 million people have had their protected health information compromised. One of the biggest HIPAA violators in the state has been the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, with officials reporting three HIPAA breaches since 2012, impacting nearly 35,000 individuals.

The HealthTexas Provider Network, which is affiliated with Baylor Scott & White Health, has also reported three HIPAA breaches since 2011, including a case of hacking, unauthorized access and theft of an unencrypted laptop.