Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) today announced that personal information belonging to approximately 12,000 BlueCHiP for Medicare members was inadvertently contained in a filing cabinet donated with other surplus office furniture to a local nonprofit organization.
The filing cabinet mistakenly contained completed BlueCHiP for Medicare Health Surveys from 2001 to early 2004. The surveys included names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, Medicare identification numbers, and self-reported medical information.
Upon receiving the report, BCBSRI's Privacy Officer immediately retrieved the documents and launched a full investigation. BCBSRI also notified appropriate federal and state authorities of the incident, including the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights, the Rhode Island Attorney General, and the Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner.
In a letter to the approximately 12,000 affected BlueCHiP for Medicare members, BCBSRI apologized for the error, notified them of a special hotline available, and offered each affected member free credit monitoring for one year.
"BCBSRI takes its responsibility to protect our members' personal information very seriously, and we sincerely regret this inadvertent disclosure," said James E. Purcell, president and CEO of BCBSRI. "Fortunately, thanks to the swift action of the nonprofit in notifying BCBSRI, we believe there is little chance that member information will be misused. We know that our members trust us with their information, and we are committed to preventing this type of incident from occurring in the future."
BCBSRI's internal investigation revealed that the disclosure was the result of the failure of certain employees to adhere to the company's strict policies and procedures, which have been designed to protect member information. As a result of this breach, the responsible employees have been appropriately disciplined, including several who have been terminated.
While the disclosure appears to have been contained, out of an abundance of caution, BCBSRI is providing the affected BlueCHiP for Medicare members with free credit monitoring, assistance in every aspect of identity theft protection, and an identity protection product guarantee for one year, provided by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company. Members were given direct access to immediately activate their protection. Among other services, members will have free access to:
"Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island takes this incident very seriously and is fully committed to assuring the security of our members' information," Purcell said. "We require all of our associates to follow strict privacy and security practices applicable to the healthcare industry. We will learn from this incident and take all appropriate steps to maintain the trust that members have in our privacy and security standards."
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is the state's leading health insurer and covers more than 600,000 members. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.