Survey Finds Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impacting Hospital Finances and Patient Care Access

The recent cyberattack on Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, has sent affected the U.S. healthcare system greatly, marking it as one of the most consequential attacks in its history. Targeting a company responsible for processing 15 billion healthcare transactions annually, with a direct impact on one in every three patient records, the fallout has been severe. Patients across the nation have experienced concerning delays in accessing timely care, while billions of dollars have ceased flowing to providers, presenting a threat to the financial viability of hospitals, health systems, physician offices, and other healthcare entities. 

The American Hospital Association (AHA) conducted a comprehensive survey among nearly 1,000 hospitals across the United States in response to the widespread disruption caused by the cyberattack. The findings, collected between March 9 and March 12, 2024, revealed the extent of the impact on patient care access and financial operations. The survey found 74% of hospitals reported direct impacts on patient care, with close to 40% citing difficulties in patient access due to delays in processing health plan utilization requirements such as prior authorizations. Financial repercussions were equally widespread, with 94% of hospitals reporting impacts, over half of which were categorized as “significant or serious.” Cash flow disruptions affected 82% of hospitals, with more than a third experiencing impacts on over half of their revenue. Nearly 60% reported daily revenue impacts exceeding $1 million, with 44% anticipating the negative effects to persist for 2-4 months. Despite efforts to implement workarounds, challenges persist, with two-thirds of hospitals finding it difficult to switch clearinghouses, and 81% describing the implemented workarounds as only somewhat successful. 

The cyberattack on Change Healthcare, attributed to the BlackCat/ALPHV ransomware group, has prompted widespread concern over the security of sensitive data. The group claims to have exfiltrated data pertaining to Medicare, TriCare, CVS, MetLife, and more, raising alarms about potential compromises in patient information. While investigations into the full extent of the breach are ongoing, reports suggest that the attackers received a ransom payment of $22 million, further highlighting the severity of the incident.  

In response to the cyber incident, Change Healthcare and its parent company, UnitedHealth Group, have been working tirelessly to restore services and mitigate the impact on healthcare providers and patients. Change Healthcare has begun releasing medical claims preparation software to resume services affected by the attack, and CMS has issued guidance for states to make interim Medicaid payments to affected providers. Meanwhile, the Department of Health & Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has launched an investigation into the incident, focusing on potential breaches of protected health information (PHI) and compliance with HIPAA rules. Stakeholders emphasize the need for collaboration, transparency, and proactive cybersecurity measures to safeguard patient data and ensure uninterrupted access to care. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in the healthcare system and the urgent imperative to strengthen defenses against evolving cyber threats. 

Author: Nathan Murphy

Nathan Murphy is news journalist on Nathan has worked as a writer on a number of publications, contributing hundreds of articles on a broad range of topics, with a particular focus on IT security. You can contact Nathan on LinkedIn and follow on Twitter