"Appalled" officials at the Wisconsin State Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) are asking Electronic Data Systems (EDS) to explain why it allowed Social Security numbers to be printed on the address labels of information brochures recently sent to more than 260,000 recipients of state health care services.
The state agency is also asking EDS to cover the cost of mailing letters to all of the affected individuals informing them of the error as well as the costs of providing credit-monitoring services for a year.
"We are appalled that EDS made this mistake," said deputy secretary Karen Timberlake in a statement. "We take our responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of our members very seriously - and we expect our contractors to do the same," she said.
EDS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speaking with Computerworld, Timberlake said that EDS has been a private vendor for state Medicaid services for the past 30 years and has sent out similar mailings on numerous occasions. This is the first time something like this has happened, she said.
"It was clearly an error or EDS's part," Timberlake said. "We have requirements in the contract that they safeguard data. We are in the process of working with EDS and requiring that they get to the bottom of this. They need to explain to us what happened and what they are doing to ensure this doesn't happen again."
According to Timberlake, EDS was asked by DHFS last week to send a six-page mailing to roughly 485,000 of the 800,000 or so members enrolled in Wisconsin's Medicaid, SeniorCare and BadgerCare services.
For reasons still unclear, the Social Security numbers of each person that the mailing list was supposed to go to was printed along with their names and mailing addresses, she said. EDS caught the error midway through the mailing but not before brochures had gone out to about 260,000 members, she said.
"The question that everyone has is: 'How, with all of the sensitivity around protection of Social Security numbers, could this have happened?'" she said. "The reality is that you can have all the protocols, procedures and contract requirements in place, but you can't prevent human error."
This is the second time in just over a year that a Wisconsin state agency has faced virtually the same issue. On 30 December, 2006, the state's Department of Revenue disclosed that a printing error had resulted in Social Security numbers being printed on the address labels of mailers sent out to about 171,000 taxpayers in the state.