More than 9,300 children in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina had their new Medicaid identification cards mailed to the wrong address last week, state health officials said Tuesday.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has blamed human error in computer programming and its quality assurance process for the mistake.

The cards were mailed erroneously Dec. 30. DHHS officials learned of the problem Dec. 31, but didn't inform the public until Friday.

There were 1,927 Medicaid beneficiaries in Forsyth County affected by the mistake, as well as 2,129 in Guilford County. Guilford and Forsyth, respectively, had the third and fourth largest total of children impacted.

Overall, 48,752 Medicaid recipients were affected statewide by the improper mailings.

Cards were printed for the 70,253 children who were switched from NC Health Choice to Medicaid because of new eligibility rules and requirements under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The cards included the child's name, Medicaid ID number, date of birth and primary care physician. DHHS officials stressed the card does not include the child's Social Security number.

Sandra Terrell, the state's acting Medicaid director, said Monday that recipients will have to wait at least three weeks before getting their correct cards that will contain a different Medicaid ID number.

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She also indicated that officials are relying on the kindness of the people who received the cards erroneously to dispose of them properly, whether shredding them or taking them to a county department of Social Services.

State health Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos has asked the state Office of Information Technology Services to conduct an external review of the processes and procedures that led to the breach. The agency's Office of Human Resources is conducting a personnel investigation.

It is possible that DHHS may have violated federal privacy laws related to health records. Terrell said the agency has reported the breach of the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The N.C. Attorney General's Office said Tuesday that misusing a Medicaid benefit card is a felony. Roy Cooper, the state's attorney general, said the office's Medicaid Investigative Division has prosecuted people in the past for such crimes.

The office and DHHS have suggested parents take the following steps: contact the three credit bureaus to see if the child has a credit report; if there is a report, request a fraud alert and a security freeze of the credit report; and monitor statements of medical services.

(c)2014 Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.)