Hack Gives Patients, Providers a Big Insurance Headache

Ransomware attack against UnitedHealth's Change Health unit cripples services for more than a week
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2024 11:00 AM CST
Ransomware Attack Stymies Rx Refills Nationwide
The United Healthcare website is seen displayed on a computer screen in New York on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Across the US, health care providers are contending with a payment issue wrought by a ransomware strike that went down last month. The Washington Post reports that, for more than a week, those providers, including hospitals and pharmacies, have had trouble processing insurance claims and filling prescriptions due to the attack on Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth. The Post notes that the outage has left the drug market "in disarray," with some patients made to choose between paying steeper out-of-pocket costs (sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars) or not getting their meds at all. In some cases, pharmacists have been trying to estimate drug co-pay costs under insurance, hoping that when the system is back up all will be settled.

  • What happened: The hackers reportedly broke into the Change Health system, which sends Rx claims from pharmacies to firms that determine what insurance coverage patients are eligible for, on Feb. 21. They swiped patient data, then encrypted that info, demanding that the company pay them big bucks to get it back. Change Health subsequently shut down its system. An online tracker cited by TechCrunch noted on Saturday that they were still experiencing issues.
  • Who's responsible: Sources tell Reuters that a group called ALPHV, or Blackcat, was behind the hack. Blackcat has since claimed responsibility to DataBreaches.net.
  • Reaction: "We are 100% down when it comes to billing right now," the legal director of a lab in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that does drug testing for doctors' offices, tells Reuters. Meanwhile, a Maryland patient who says she hopefully has enough diabetes meds to tide her over until the issue is resolved tells the Post her usual $25 co-pay would be $250 during the outage, noting: "Not everyone has an extra $250 they weren't expecting to spend."
  • From UnitedHealth: In its latest update, posted Friday, the company said it had a "high level of confidence" that its own services hadn't been affected. As for Change Health, its parent company says it's working with law enforcement and other third parties to "to restore the impacted environment and continue to be proactive and aggressive with all our systems."
(More ransomware stories.)

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