Health insurer Centene Corp admitted on Monday Jan. 24 it is conducting an internal search for six missing hard drives containing the personal and health information of 950,000 people who received laboratory services between 2009 and 2015. The company clarified the hard drives do not contain any financial or payment details of customers.

The missing information includes the names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers and health information of customers. The company said it was using the data of laboratory results as part of a project that is aimed at improving the health outcomes of their members.

Centene Corporation's national headquarters in St. Louis. Photo: Centene Corporation
Centene Corporation’s national headquarters in St. Louis. Photo: Centene Corporation

It remains unclear whether the data contained on the hard drives was encrypted and the way they were lost. The firm has started to notify those clients affected and is offering them free credit and healthcare monitoring. Centene also vowed to reinforce and review its procedures.

“While we don’t believe this information has been used inappropriately, out of abundance of caution and in transparency, we are disclosing an ongoing search for the hard drives,” stated Michael Neidorff, Centene’s chief executive.

The fact that data from nearly a million people has been lost represents a serious problem because the company handles sensitive health information related to its customers. Centene will probably be forced to make a report to US regulatory authorities, meaning that they could be fined for any data loss, as told to the BBC by Alison Rea, a lawyer at Kemp Little.

According to Rea, the potential damage Centene’s members could suffer will not be severe if the information was lost within the organization. But the damages claims the company might be already facing could be significantly higher if the data has been exposed to the public domain, Rea commented.

She added that the second scenario would cause personal distress to those patients affected if their friends and relatives found out about their medical records. Much worse, the individuals involved would have a hard time when trying to secure medical health insurance with other providers in the future.

Centene Corp is a publicly traded company that offers services to health care programs sponsored by the government with focus on people who are under-insured and uninsured. The firm particularly points at Medicaid managed care and provides pharmacy benefits, as well as behavioral and in-home health care.

Following the announcement of the missing data, the firm’s shares in St. Louis were down about 2 percent at $60.24 in the extended trading.

Source: BBC News