Worrisome Security Breach at HealthCare.gov

How would you feel if a letter from HHS addressed to you informing you of your eligibility for Obamacare ended up in the account of another HealthCare.gov user?

Meet Justin Hadley, from North Carolina, who received a shock when he opened his recently created account on HealthCare.gov and found two letters containing personal information addressed not to him, but to two total strangers.

Heritage blog The Foundry has the exclusive story:

Justin Hadley logged on to HealthCare.gov to evaluate his insurance options after his health plan was canceled. What he discovered was an apparent security flaw that disclosed eligibility letters addressed to individuals from another state.

“I was in complete shock,” said Hadley, who contacted Heritage after becoming alarmed at the breach of privacy.

Hadley, a North Carolina father, buys his insurance on the individual market. His insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, directed him to HealthCare.gov in a cancellation letter he received in September.

After multiple attempts to access the problem-plagued website, Hadley finally made it past the registration page Thursday. That’s when he was greeted with downloadable letters about eligibility — for two people in South Carolina.

The letters, dated October 8, acknowledge receipt of an application to the Health Insurance Marketplace and the eligibility of family members to purchase health coverage. One of the letters was addressed to Thomas Dougall, a lawyer from Elgin, SC.

Hadley wrote to Heritage on Thursday night and also contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers HealthCare.gov, as well as elected officials in his state. He has yet to hear back from HHS, even though HealthCare.gov still displays the personal information of the South Carolina residents on his account.

Hadley reached out to Dougall on Friday to notify him of the breach. Dougall, who spoke to Heritage this evening, said he was evaluating health care options in early October. Dougall said he was able to register on HealthCare.gov, but decided not to sign up for insurance.

“The plans they offered were grossly expensive and didn’t provide the level of care I have now,” he said.

Dougall said he never saw the October 8 letter until Hadley sent it to him Friday.

After learning of the privacy breach, Dougall spent Friday evening trying to contact representatives from HealthCare.gov to no avail; he spent an hour waiting on the telephone and an online chat session was unhelpful. He also wrote to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC), along with Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC).

“I want my personal information off of that website,” Dougall said.

Security is apparently an afterthought at the website. And given a report by AP last week that the site was a "high" security risk, it shouldn't surprise us.

In effect, the government of the United States has knowingly opened and is encouraging the use of a website that they know is fatally flawed security-wise -- and just don't give a crap. Mr. Dougall's calls to HHS should have set off alarm bells all over the place. Instead, security is apparently far down the "to do" list for those trying to fix the thousands of glitches in the system and no one at the department bothered to return his calls.

Heritage cyber-security expert Steven Bucci had this to say:

“Once it goes out over the system, it is vulnerable,” Bucci said. “There appears to have been a singular lack of concern for security. The site needs to receive and transmit sensitive personal information, yet it has less than state of the art security.”

Bucci said if a doctor’s receptionist speaks too loudly about personal information so that others could hear it, that’s a violation of the law.

“Functionality and security have to be the hallmark of programs like this one,” Bucci said. “The site has failed on both counts and has further weakened the confidence of the American people.”

You wonder if there was ever a massive security breach if the government would even tell us.