Laptop, Medicaid Patients' Data Disappear

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New Mexico's Human Service Department is busy notifying more than 9,500 patients enrolled in the state's Medicaid Salud program that their most vital and sensitive personal information was exposed last month after a car and a laptop storing the data was stolen in Chicago.

The loss of the data, which included names, addresses, phone numbers, health plan identification numbers and social security numbers, has become an all-too-common phenomenon as thieves are targeting laptops at airports, unoccupied cars and coffee shops in record numbers.

Just last month, more than 3,500 patients who received treatment at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary found out that their personal information was exposed after a laptop was stolen from a physician during a lecture tour in South Korea.

In its advisory statement, New Mexico Human Services (NMHS) officials said they first became aware of the data breach after DentaQuest, a company that processes claims and provides dental benefits for the state's Medicaid program, acknowledged that the laptop disappeared along with the stolen vehicle in Chicago.

"A police report on the theft was filed," NMHS officials said. "The computer was password-protected, but otherwise did not have safeguards to prevent unauthorized access to the information."

NMHS officials said the agency has already informed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is working to notify affected individuals. It's also embarked on an investigation into the breach.

In February, officials at the University of California, San Francisco's medical school warned some 4,300 patients that their data had been compromised after another laptop was stolen from an employee's parked car.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.