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VA loses sensitive information on 1.3 million doctors




VA loses sensitive information on 1.3 million doctors
VA loses sensitive information on 1.3 million doctors



http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=36113 

By Daniel Pulliam
dpulliam (at) govexec.com
February 12, 2007

The hard drive that went missing from a Birmingham, Ala., Veterans 
Affairs Department facility last month contained highly sensitive 
information on nearly all U.S. physicians and medical data for about 
535,000 VA patients, agency officials announced over the weekend.

The data for the 1.3 million physicians who have billed Medicaid and 
Medicare, both living and deceased, could result in widespread fraud, 
such as the creation of fake Medicare and Medicaid invoices.

There are 902,053 physicians in the United States, according to the 
American Medical Association.

According to congressional sources, personal information on patients and 
medical data were kept in separate files, but there is enough 
information that files could be linked.

A VA research assistant was using the physician data to analyze VA 
health care providers and compare them to non-VA providers, according to 
a statement from the department. The research assistant used the hard 
drive to back up information contained on an office computer, and the 
data is not believed to have been encrypted.

VA officials are not sure at this point whether the data was stolen or 
simply lost. They are arranging to provide one year of free credit 
monitoring to those whose information was compromised.

The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome 
of a criminal investigation, which is being conducted by the VA's 
inspector general and the FBI. The VA announcement stated there is no 
information that the data has been misused.

In a statement, VA Secretary James Nicholson said the investigation into 
the incident is ongoing, but he believes that "it is important to 
provide the public additional details as quickly as we can."

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the 
agency is aware of the situation and is working with the VA to get more 
information on the data breach.

The incident marks the third major breach at the VA in less than a year.

In May 2006, the theft of computer equipment containing sensitive 
information put 26.5 million people at risk for identity theft. Four 
months later, another breach put at risk the personal data of up to 
38,000 people. In both instances, the data was recovered and officials 
determined it was probably not touched.

"[The] VA is unwavering in our resolve to bolster our data security 
measures," Nicholson said. "We remain focused on doing everything that 
can be done to protect the personal information with which we are 
entrusted."

Copyright 2007 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.


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