Stolen laptop contained dental patients' personal data

By Donna Domino, features editor

May 19, 2011 -- Delta Dental of Minnesota has notified patients of the Smile Center dental clinics that personal information used in a lawsuit has been compromised after a laptop computer and computer disk containing the data were stolen from the University of Minnesota.

The computer disk contained the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and dental claims data for some patients covered by Delta Dental who were patients of the Smile Center dental clinics between January 1, 2003, and June 30, 2010, according to a Delta Dental press release.

The data were used as part of a lawsuit filed in April 2009 filed on behalf of five Minnesota Smile Center Clinics -- which provide dental care to low-income patients and employ 34 dentists and 40 dental hygienists -- accusing Delta Dental of Minnesota of using its "economic stranglehold" to force its dentists to provide less care than the low-income enrollees deserved.

“Delta Dental of Minnesota takes the security of its subscribers' information seriously.”
— David Morse, president, Delta Dental
     of Minnesota

As part of the lawsuit, Delta Dental was required to provide the disk containing patient data to the Smile Center, their law firm, and their expert witness. It was this disk that was stolen in February from the expert witness's office at the University of Minnesota. Neither the university nor Delta Dental revealed when it was stolen or how many names it contained.

The suits were settled in March of this year, with the Smile Center agreeing to pay Delta Dental $750,000. Delta Dental agreed to distribute that money and another $3.1 million escrowed from claims submitted by the Smile Center clinics that Delta Dental believed were fraudulent or abusive.

Delta Dental administers dental benefits for several healthcare plans in Minnesota that provide care for the state's low-income residents. Delta Dental began investigating the Smile Center clinics after a dentist sent Delta an anonymous letter. Delta's review found what it believed to be abnormally high utilization rates for several mostly routine dental procedures, the company said.

When Delta Dental concluded that the Smile Center clinics had billed for services that Delta suspected were possibly fraudulent or abusive, Delta asked for explanations for the utilization rates. Delta said it then withheld payments to Smile Center clinics because "no reasonable clinical explanations were provided."

In the March settlement, both Delta Dental and the Smile Center clinics denied any liability or wrongdoing.

Delta Dental said its health plan contracts have specific reporting requirements for suspected fraud and abuse, noting that the company had legal and contractual responsibilities to report suspected fraud.

The Smile Center did not respond to calls for comment as of press time.

Law enforcement officials are working to recover the data and that there is no indication that the information has been inappropriately accessed, misused, or further disclosed, according to Delta Dental. The company notified the patients whose Social Security numbers were exposed after the Smile Center failed to do so.

"Delta Dental of Minnesota takes the security of its subscribers' information seriously," David Morse, president of Delta Dental of Minnesota, said in a statement. "We regret that someone was able to steal this sensitive information from the Smile Center witness. The security of our subscribers' personal information is paramount in everything we do at Delta Dental of Minnesota, and we will continue to take every reasonable step to safeguard personal information."

The company also offered to provide those patients with advice on identity theft and credit monitoring.

Copyright © 2011

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