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MEDICARE MESS: Records mailed out to wrong people

Gray resident Wayne Swihart was minding his own business on April 23 when he went to get his mail from the mailbox.
But when he opened a Medicare report addressed to him, Swihart discovered he was looking at the personal medical information of a complete stranger.
Swihart said he was dumbfounded as he read through the papers containing details of recent medical tests Marie Holt, of Ripley, had undergone, along with the last four digits of her social security number, her home address, phone number and the name of her doctor.
“At first, I was so surprised I didn’t quite know what to do,” Swihart said. “Then I picked up the phone and tried to call Medicare.”
At the time, a Medicare representative reportedly told Swihart she only knew of three similar incidents that had been reported. She asked Swihart to send the letter back, but he refused without having them send him a postage-paid envelope, he said.
“She also suggested that I just shred the documents,” Swihart said. “But I told her that I couldn’t do that without written authorization from Medicare.”
According to Swihart, the conversation ended after the representative took his information and assured him someone would call him back.
On April 25, Swihart said, a representative of Medicare did indeed call.
“The lady who called me back said about 500 cases had been reported as far as she knew at that time, and she said she ‘thought’ it was limited to Tennessee,” Swihart said. “I started thinking about it and I guess my first thought was, ‘I got this, so who got mine?’ I asked the lady from Medicare and her response was, ‘Probably no one.’”
Swihart then requested the representative send him a letter stating his name and personal information hadn’t been given to anyone else.
“She told me they couldn’t do that,” Swihart said. “I asked her what they were going to do about it and she told me that all affected subscribers would be notified.”
Skeptical, Swihart called Holt to tell her that he had her Medicare report. It was the first notice she had been given about the mix-up.
“It was unbelievable,” Holt told the Herald & Tribune. “Here is a complete stranger calling me to tell me he has my Medicare information. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me.”
Holt, a 65-year-old retiree, said she found the whole matter “very upsetting.”
“I don’t want anyone to have my information, under any circumstances,” she said. “Somebody made a big boo-boo there. I don’t know how they could get that confused.”
Ripley is located in southwest Tennessee, about 50 miles from Memphis.
Swihart’s father, Wayne Sr., who lives on Hales Chapel Road, also received someone else’s Medicare report – that of nursing home resident Eula Wicks, of Memphis. Details of Wicks’ recent x-rays as well as other personal information were included.
The Herald & Tribune learned of at least two other East Tennessee residents who received wrong personal information from Medicare.
Dean and Shirley Batchelder, of Elizabethton, each received someone else’s information in Medicare reports sent to them last month.
“The top sheets had our names on them,” Shirley Batchelder said. “But the rest of the pages were someone else’s. I can’t remember the name, but the report with my name on it was from Rutledge, Tennessee.”
Like Swihart, the Batchelders said they were concerned about getting private information about complete strangers. They contacted Medicare and received a return call.
“The man who called us back said this was a widespread problem in Tennessee and that he had been making calls all day,” Shirley Batchelder said. “He said something about the problem being caused by a computer glitch and asked me to shred the documents, so I did.”
When contacted by the Herald & Tribune, Lee Millman, regional spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said she was unaware of the apparent mix-ups and would be looking into the matter.