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TRICARE Investigates Beneficiary Data Breach

The TRICARE Management Activity is reviewing its data protection policies and security procedures after discovering a data breach involving the personal health information of close to 4.9 million military clinic and hospital patients.

The breach primarily concerns patients who were treated or filled prescriptions in the San Antonio-area military treatment facilities from 1992 through September 7, 2011. Other beneficiaries who received care in other facilities but who had lab work processed in San Antonio facilities could also be affected. 

A TRICARE contractor, Science Applications International Corp. reported the data breach on September 14th. Backup tapes from the military health system's electronic health care record system which were used to capture patient data since 1992 were lost.

Part of TRICARE's investigation involves discovering the exact circumstances of the loss and the results will be published as soon as they are available.

Data on the tapes may included Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers and personal health information including clinical notes, lab tests and prescriptions. No financial data such as bank account or credit card information is included in the breach.

TRICARE officials estimate the risk of harm to patients is relatively low, despite the personal information involved. Because it requires special equipment to read the tapes and a skilled individual to interpret the data, odds are low that anyone could access the data. They also do not believe the tapes were stolen, but were only lost.

As TRICARE investigates the breach, they plan to notify every individual whose information may have been involved. TRICARE is working with SAIC to generate that list of names, but because of the number of people concerned and the need to review multiple databases, notifications could take four to six weeks.

Any people who suspect that they may have been affected but have not received notification can take the steps outlined on the FTC's website to protect their personal information. They can also place a free fraud alert on their credit for 90 days through the site and are encouraged to monitor their credit closely. 

Patients may also contact the SAIC Incident Response Call Center free of charge from 9am-6pm EST Monday through Friday. In the US, patients should call toll-free 1-855-366-0140. To call from overseas, patients should make a collect call to 1-952-556-8312.

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