Medical identity theft—an old problem, but a growing one
Medical identity theft is when someone uses your personal information to fraudulently receive medical care—and have it paid for by you and/or your insurance.
If that person is treated under your name, not only your finances, but your entire medical history could be at risk.
What if your blood type was changed? What if a serious drug allergy was added or removed from your records? What if your chart suddenly identified you as a 23-year-old female who had an appendectomy, when you are actually a 45-year-old woman with an appendix about to burst?
The result would be plenty of confusion, and perhaps a dangerous delay in treatment. Not to mention the hospital bills.
Thirty some years ago when I began in nursing, we (all health care providers) were pretty careless with patients’ personal information.
It’s not that we gossiped about their diseases or treatments—confidentiality was and is important—but we tossed around patients’ home addresses, birth dates and social security numbers among all sorts of people.
Back then it was common practice for your insurance or medical identity number to be your social security number (it still is for Medicare). Every time I had to schedule someone for surgery, I had to have that person’s birth date and social security number handy. Every time I labeled a specimen to go to the lab, I had to include the social security number.
I pestered the receptionists to get this information from the patients; receptionists in turn pestered the patients. Oddly enough, some people were very reluctant to hand over their social security numbers. Some refused outright! They caused me more work back then, and I was annoyed; now I think “Good for them!”
Today, of course, we know how protective each of us has to be with our personal information. But with the increasing use of the internet and electronic health records (EHR), it’s easier than ever for hackers and scammers and thieves to obtain and use our information.
Seven steps to protect yourself
- Review your Explanation of Benefits (EOBs). Ensure the doctors listed and services provided are accurate. If you find an incorrect item, even if no money is owed, contact your insurance company immediately.
- Obtain your “benefits request” annually. Your insurance provider can provide a list of all benefits and services paid in your name, which you can review to confirm all the services listed were received.
- Protect your medical insurance card. Leave your insurance card in a safe place, and don’t carry it with you unless it’s necessary.
- Safeguard your insurance-related paperwork. Shred or file your Explanation of Benefits in a safe, and preferably locked location.
- Report lost or stolen health insurance identification cards. Alert your insurance carrier of misplaced, lost, or stolen cards to avoid unauthorized use.
- Use vigilance when providing your personal or insurance information. Be sure you’re dealing with a reputable healthcare provider. Be cautious when offered free medical services. Often fraudsters use this as a way to obtain your health information.
- Review your credit reports annually. You have a right to request a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Be sure your reports are free of any medical liens.
Protect yourself other forms of health fraud and identity theft
The public’s confusion about the Affordable Care Act has kept the scammers busy. Seniors are especially vulnerable, even though those on Medicare do not need to sign up or enroll on the Obamacare health exchanges.
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud gives examples of some common Obamacare scams, like phony navigators and fake healthcare.gov websites, and also provides some tips for recognizing the scams and protecting yourself.
The sorry state of the federal health exchange is worrisome as well, with many experts questioning how secure the website is.
But if you live in one of the affected states, and you need health insurance, and you need a subsidy to afford it, you will have to eventually complete an application and enter your personal information.
To protect yourself from identity theft, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) recommends keeping close track of your bank statements and credit card bills, and getting a free annual credit report every year.
The moral of my post today is to be as vigilant with your personal health information as you are with your credit and banking information. A little extra caution might make a big difference in thwarting a thief wanting free health care!