This past week, CareFirst, a U.S. based BlueCross and BlueShield insurer with coverage in Mid-Atlantic States, revealed that 1.1 million user accounts were compromised. CareFirst is the third U.S. health insurance company to publicly acknowledge a data breach recently, following Premera Blue Cross and Anthem.  It seems relatively small potatoes compared to the Premera (11 million people) and Anthem, which acknowledged that hackers broke into a database containing personal information for about 80 million of its customers and employees. But if you’re one of the 1.1 million, it isn’t small potatoes.

It can also hit very close to home. I just discovered friends of mine were among those caught up in the Anthem hack, which also led to them being part of the income tax fraud scheme that I and my fellow blogger, Tony Anscombe, have written about previously. My friends were tipped off when a new credit card arrived that they hadn’t ordered. Shortly after, they tried to file their income taxes and found they’d already been filed –and a substantial over-payment (not based on their calculations) had already been claimed by the perpetrator.

CareFirst said that the attackers gained limited, unauthorized access to a single CareFirst database. CareFirst said the attackers didn't get access to Social Security numbers, employment info, financial data, medical data or consumer passwords –because those are encrypted and stored in a separate system.

However, attackers could have potentially acquired members’ names, birth dates, email addresses and subscriber identification number. (You can also see the full statement from CareFirst on its website.)

The attack occurred in June 2014, two months after the insurer detected an attack that the organization thought it had contained… But the hackers had left behind hidden back doors that let them re-enter later, undetected, according to reports, by the Baltimore Sun and others.

According to CareFirst, it has run comprehensive internal security tests, and hired an outside security company for further assessment, as well. It is offering two years of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services for those members affected. Finally, it is letting those customers know who might be compromised. (Anthem did this also, though my friend was not among those notified…)

IT security has to be a priority for all businesses, but particularly for healthcare, where the stakes are so high.  The healthcare industry needs to conduct extensive ongoing internal IT evaluations and adopt stricter policies – especially around what data they need to keep and for how long.

According to a new research by Ponemon Institute sponsored by IBM, “2015 Cost of Data Breaches Study”, data breaches in healthcare are the most expensive to remediate and only going up. The study covered 350 companies in 11 countries across 16 industries.

Consider the case of the UK-based Cottage Healthcare Systems. Hackers swiped 32,500 patient records and its customers sued Cottage for $4.1 million. Its insurance company, Columbia Casualty Company, settled the claims. But now Columbia has come back to Cottage to recoup the settlement, because it claims Cottage did not provide adequate and secure IT systems, so it wants its money back.

As consumers, we have to do more too. We need to monitor the activities on all of our accounts, financial and via our health care providers and insurance companies– and note anything that’s irregular or suspicious.

You can find some helpful information on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website to identify signs of medical identity theft, including these:

  • A bill for medical services you didn’t receive
  • A call from a debt collector about a medical debt you don’t owe
  • A notice from your insurer saying you reached your benefit limit or denial of insurance for a condition you don’t have.

The FTC encourages visiting IdentityTheft.gov to report incidents and get information on how to recover from identity theft.