Cyberattack took down pharmacies across America

IT provider Change Healthcare has confirmed it shut down some of its systems following a cyberattack, disrupting prescription orders and other services at pharmacies across the US.

The technology outfit is one of the largest in the country of its kind, and is used by pharmacists to check patients' eligibility for treatments and process orders for medication given their insurance situation, among many other things. Pulling the plug on its backend services has hit pharmacies relying on its tech, including CVS, and forced some folks to pay for their medication at full price in cash.

"Change Healthcare is experiencing a cyber security issue, and our experts are working to address the matter," the biz, which is owned by UnitedHealth and claims to handle 15 billion healthcare transactions annually, said earlier today.

The trouble appears to have started on Wednesday, and at the time Change said it was "experiencing enterprise-wide connectivity issues." That evening it confirmed it was "experiencing a network interruption related to a cyber security issue."

The IT supplier added: "Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact. At this time, we believe the issue is specific to Change Healthcare and all other systems across UnitedHealth Group are operational."

The healthcare biz said it expects the disruption to last throughout the day and into Friday, if not longer, and promised to provide updates as additional information becomes available.

Meanwhile, pharmacies across the country reported outages and were unable to fill patients' prescriptions using their insurance because of the Change Healthcare disruption, according to media reports.

Athenahealth is one of the affected Change Healthcare customers, according to Forbes. "This problem is being actively worked on by Change Healthcare, and athenaEDITM is monitoring the issue closely," according to an Athenahealth alert cited by the magazine.

We're told that Athenahealth customers may experience transaction processing delays and their purchases may get a "no response" status until the issue is resolved.

Healthcare exec David Chou, who wrote the Forbes article, said because of the Change Healthcare issue, he had to pay the cash price for a prescription at a CVS pharmacy. "My only option is to return to CVS when the system is back up so they can apply my insurance contract pricing and process a refund," he noted.

A spokesperson for CVS told us:

We are aware that Change Healthcare is experiencing a network interruption that is impacting certain CVS Health business operations, as well as the operations of other companies nationally. There is no indication that CVS Health’s systems have been compromised.

We’re committed to ensuring access to care as we navigate through this interruption. We have business continuity plans in place to minimize disruption of service and apologize for any inconvenience our customers and members may experience.

We’re continuing to fill prescriptions but in certain cases we are not able to process insurance claims, which our business continuity plan is addressing to ensure patients continue to have access to their medications.

Meanwhile Michigan's Scheurer Health was unable to process prescriptions at any of its family pharmacy locations on Wednesday, also due to the Change Healthcare outage.

The Register also heard reports of Publix pharmacies being affected by the disruption and has reached out to that retail chain for comment. ®

Updated to add

UnitedHealth just told the stock market, via America's securities watchdog, that a "suspected nation-state associated cyber security threat actor" is responsible for the attack on its systems this week, and that this person gained access to parts of Change's IT environment.

"During the disruption, certain networks and transactional services may not be accessible," the biz added.

"The company is working diligently to restore those systems and resume normal operations as soon as possible, but cannot estimate the duration or extent of the disruption at this time.

"The company has retained leading security experts, is working with law enforcement and notified customers, clients and certain government agencies. At this time, the company believes the network interruption is specific to Change Healthcare systems, and all other systems across the company are operational."

Meanwhile, the FBI declined to comment on the matter.