AUSTIN - Scores of confidential documents containing medical and financial information about people applying for state benefits wound up in a Seattle warehouse after clients used an incorrect fax number to send the paperwork, a newspaper reported Friday.

While it isn't clear why people used the wrong number, it took the Texas Health and Human Services Commission more than three weeks to seriously check into the warehouse's complaints that they were receiving the confidential faxes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"It was an error on our part that we did not complete our investigation of this information more quickly," agency spokeswoman Gail Randall said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Applications for Medicaid, food stamps, low-cost children's health insurance and welfare started showing up in Seattle three months ago, warehouse clerk Shaun Peck told the newspaper. They included Social Security numbers, medical evaluations, income tax forms and pay stubs.

Other than the area code, the toll-free telephone number for the warehouse is almost identical to the toll-free fax number for the state contractor that processes such applications. The Texas Access Alliance's area code is 877, while the warehouse's is 800.

The warehouse telephone had a feature that automatically forwarded faxes from their phone line to their fax machine. After talking with the TAA, the warehouse disconnected that feature, contractor spokeswoman Jill Angelo said.

Mr. Peck didn't know how many applications they'd received, guessing a dozen a week. Workers shredded some, he said, and manually stopped the fax machine from printing others.

The warehouse manager finally asked the woman who manages their Yellow Pages account to help figure out what was going on. She told Texas officials about the problem on May 9. And on May 25, she directly contacted the contractor in charge of processing the applications.

Ms. Randall said the state and TAA found one internal document that had the incorrect fax number, but the mistake was not included in any client correspondence. She said the clients may have misdialed since the numbers are so similar.

The mix-up is the latest problem to emerge from the privatization of the state's benefits eligibility system. The state plans to replace 99 of its 310 eligibility offices with four call centers run by the TAA.

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