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As physicians and hospitals transition from paper to electronic medical records there are concerns that medical information will be even easier to access on an even larger scale. What can you do about it to keep your family and your health safe.
Consumers have become more and more aware of the threats of identity theft that rob them of their money and good credit and take months and months to correct. The aggravation of rectifying an identity theft can cause major stress. However, there is a form of identity theft can cause more than just a headache. It’s medical identity theft and medical identity theft can ultimately threaten a victim’s health.
What is medical identity theft?
Medical identity theft happens when identity thieves access and use other people’s personal information, such as their name or insurance account information, without the individuals’ consent or even knowledge. Medical identity thieves may use other people’s information to get medical services or products or to make false medical claims.
Why would someone steal a medical identity?
There are generally two reasons. One motivation for medical identity theft is when a person without insurance needs a surgery or prescription drugs and sees your insurance as free ticket. Another motivation for medical identity theft is the money, sometimes millions, which thieves can collect in false medical claims. Victims of medical identity theft can be left unpaid medical bills and ultimately ruined credit.
Because medical records and insurance information follow a patient, fictitious data added to medical records can put victims at great risk when they are treated in the future. While a falsified credit report can be a pain, a falsified medical report can be a serious threat.
Statistics on Medical Identity Theft:
Medical identity theft is currently the least investigated identity theft crime, however, some estimates are available.
In 2005, medical identity theft accounted for 3 percent of identity theft crimes. That sounds small but you understand that there were an estimated 8.3 million identity theft victims in 2005, three percent still represents 249,000 victims.
Fears for the future:
As physicians and hospitals transition from paper to electronic medical records there are concerns that medical information will be even easier to access on an even larger scale. Microsoft, Revolution Health and most recently Google have been developing products that will enable consumers to have their medical information stored on line. Many fear that if the U.S. moves to a nationwide health information network that electronically links medical records that errors may be more difficult to catch and correct once they’ve been spread through a massive system. Others believe that this technology would make it easier to discover and correct errors. The truth is uncertain and in the mean time there are real victims of medical identity theft.
Brandon Reagan, lost his wallet in 2004 during a post boot camp celebration with friends in South Carolina. He was then posted in California. A year later he learned he was a leading suspect in car theft in South Carolina. An identity thief was using Reagan’s driver’s license and military i.d. to test drive and then steal cars. The thief was also committed medical identify theft by using Reagan’s identify on several trips to the hospital for medical care for a hand injury and kidney stones. These hospital visits using Reagan’s identity resulted in $20,000 worth of medical bills.
Local police seemed unable to help. Finally, through a state senator and the U.S. attorney South Carolina office, the Secret Service arrested the identity thief, Arthur Watts who pled guilty and awakes sentencing.
The nightmare still wasn’t resolved for Reagan whose state tax refund was withheld because of the outstanding hospital bills still attached to his name. Further medical records need to be cleaned up in the event that Reagan sought medical care in South Carolina where his family lives.
Joe Ryan of Colorado received a hospital bill for $44,000 for surgery and treatments he hadn’t had. An investigation proved that an ex-con had used Ryan’s social security number to check into a hospital and have surgery. Ryan was left holding the bill and two years later Ryan is frustrated that he still hasn’t been able to straighten out his medical records.
Laws regarding medical identity theft are still sketchy and inconsistent. In many cases Federal confidentiality laws that were intended to protect your medical records actually make it more difficult for you to access your own records.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum warns, “Medical identity theft causes terrible harm, both financial and physical.”
How can you protect yourself from medical identity theft? Dixon suggest:
-Get a copy of your medical records for comparison in case they are compromised in the future.
– Annually request a list of payments made for your medical services from your insurance company.
– Review your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) as they are provided by your insurance carrier to determine their accuracy.
-Check your credit report at least once a year for any unusual unpaid charges.
To receive the best medical care, your medical records need to be accurate. Don’t assume an unwarranted bill or insurance payment is just another “screw up.” Research and report any discrepancies. Protecting yourself from identity theft and medical identity theft can save you from more than just a headache.