Medical Identity Theft Is a Health Risk
Last year we wrote about how the privacy and security of your medical records are vulnerable, and what happens when those records are stolen and used by someone else pretending to be you. A story earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times explains more about how the illegal use of your medical records threatens not only your financial well-being, but how medical identity theft can endanger your physical health.
1. False information in your record is poison. If an impostor pretending to be you receives hospital care, orders prescription drugs or submits fraudulent insurance claims, those activities become part of your medical record. What if a blood type other than yours is recorded? What if a bogus drug-use history is attributed to you? What if tests results bear your name, but you’ve never had those tests? Accurate medical history is critical to competent care. Mistakes about your medical condition, whether honest or recorded because of fraud, can be life-threatening.
2. Be suspicious of offers of medical services tied to disclosure of your health profile. As reported in The Times, the Federal Trade Commission said, "Medical identity thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors' offices, clinics, pharmacies and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information.” Be suspicious of offers of free medical services in exchange for supplying your insurance ID. Be wary of promotions offering to switch your pharmacy records for deeply discounted future drug purchases.
3. Don’t ignore bills for medical services you did not have and insurance company notifications that you’ve reached coverage limits. If legitimate, such correspondence is a strong indication that someone else is using your health insurance information to receive care. That’s true as well if you’re denied for an insurance policy due to a condition you don't have.
4. There’s a strategy to uncovering medical identity theft. You have the right to get your medical records from your insurance company and health-care providers. If you do this because you suspect record theft, don’t say so—if you have been a victim, the culprit might be part of that office. Also, according to the FTC, some providers deny you access to your records in the mistaken belief that they must protect the impostor's privacy; you don’t want to waste time providing proof otherwise. Anyone from whom you’ve requested your records has 30 days to comply.
5. Know how your information is shared. You have the right to find out from your insurer and health-care providers with whom they have shared information from your medical records. The FTC says knowing this helps you reconstruct a data trail, and shows where it veered from describing you to someone pretending to be you. You are entitled to one free copy of this accounting every year from each provider.
Clearly, the best way to protect against medical identity theft is knowing what’s in your file and when it’s being disclosed. See our recent newsletter, “Why Reading Your Medical Records Can Improve Your Health.”
Scrutinize your credit reports for medical debts you don't recognize. According to the FTC, AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law.
Visit MIB.com, to see if anyone has applied for life or health insurance using your name. The nonprofit MIB is a service provided by insurance companies that includes alerts about errors, omissions or misrepresentations made on insurance applications.
In addition, don’t entertain callers you don’t know who are seeking your medical information. Shred health-care documents—insurance information, bills, lab reports, etc.—you no longer need.
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