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Change Healthcare faced a cyberattack weeks ago. How does it impact you?

Change Healthcare cyberattack could impact patients
Change Healthcare cyberattack could impact patients 02:22

WELLESLEY - Bryan Harnsberger owns and operates a Wellesley therapy practice with more than 600 patients, but for nearly six weeks, he hasn't been able to properly bill them. 

"Initially, we were kind of shut down," he explained. "We were not able to get any reimbursement, we were not able to verify anyone's insurance." 

He says one day, on February 21, the online program they use to process claims and billing went dark. 

Hack impacts anyone using insurance

That program is run by Change Healthcare, a medical middleman owned by UnitedHealth Group that manages billing and process claims for most healthcare providers - no matter what health insurance you have. That's right: this hack doesn't only impact UnitedHealth users, but most in our healthcare system. 

"That's more or less all of our clients that are not self-pay," Harnsberger said. "So, if anyone is using insurance," it impacts them.
From hospital systems to pharmacies to practitioners, the cyber hack has impacted providers' billing abilities across the state and country. 

That billing issue has impacted some solo providers' bottom line. "Paper claims take forever, and unfortunately, because of the financial impact that [those providers] are facing, they're starting to use the money that they saved for their taxes in order to live right now," Harnsberger said he's learned in conversations with friends. 

Ransom money paid by UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group has paid some of the ransom money to get some of its systems back online, according to online statements the company released. "We continue to make significant progress in restoring the services impacted by this cyberattack," said Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group. "We know this has been an enormous challenge for health care providers and we encourage any in need to contact us." 

While it's unclear how much - if any - patient data was compromised, cyber security expert Peter Tran tells WBZ it's unlikely patients have to worry about personal medical data. "Usually, the data is limited to billing codes," he said. "Users of healthcare portals, now that portals are open to patients, don't necessarily need to worry that the sky is falling." 

However, this hack could trickle down to patients when their bills come in. "They might come in in huge chunks," Harnsberger explained. "So, you might see a bill from the therapist, saying 'hey, we were finally able to submit your claims, there are five or six of them.' They are going to have a $400 bill for this." 

It's unclear when Change Healthcare's system will return to normal. 

"Human shield for insurance companies"

Harnsberger's practice, Wellesley Counseling & Wellness, found a workaround to bill patients in the meantime. However, Harnsberger is growing increasingly frustrated, as his practice and many others were also negatively impacted by the Point32Health cyber attack last spring that affected Harvard Pilgrim Health. 

"It feels like providers are now a human shield for insurance companies," he explained. "We are taking the brunt of the complaints. They are not being passed onto the middleman. We are the ones that boots on the ground, dealing with these disruptions, trying to do what's ethical and what's right."

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