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Computer error by medical benefits administrator causes inadvertent release of health information

COLUMBIA, Mo.—University of Missouri system officials have notified several hundred participants in the university’s Choice Health Care Program that health care communications were mailed from Coventry Health Care to incorrect 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 problematic mailing only involved Choice Health Care Program members and did not affect participants in the Catastrophic Medical Program or the Retiree Indemnity Medical Program. This mailing 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. In addition, none of the services included mental health or pharmacy services.

“We discovered that the computer error occurred between January 6th and 10th, and upon learning of the error, we took immediate corrective actions to address this error,” said Roman Kulich, President and CEO of Coventry Health Care/GHP in St. Louis.  “After correcting the error, we began working with officials to notify those affected.  In addition, we implemented new system safeguards to prevent this type of error from happening again.”

University officials said an employee brought the matter to their attention on Jan. 14 and 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 Kelley Stuck, who oversees UM faculty and staff benefits programs.  “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 measures include:  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.  Stuck added that Coventry is cooperating fully with the university on this matter and “has assured us that this matter is their highest priority.”


Reviewed 2011-04-29