In that lovely, perfect world we see and hear referenced daily – you know the one, where we all have fulfilling and meaningful work, our children are strong and smart and respectful, wrinkles never happen and money is always abundant – we have health and medical records that follow us about and keep us safe. Sort of like magic.
These records, incredible though it seems, have no errors or confusing content, are resistant to any and all tampering and misinterpretation and cost us nothing – in fact, they save us all endless dollars. How is this possible?
We need to keep our wits about us, here. Yes, technology promises to smooth out all sorts of rough edges in the near future, but it also presents some major challenges. Fraud is not going away soon, or quietly. Medical identity theft is on the rise; some 5.8% of Americans have been victims of this crime, in which a thief uses his or her victim’s information to get access to medical treatment and equipment.
This kind of theft takes longer to detect than the usual identity theft, and costs considerably more. The average medical identity theft victim faces more than $20,000 in costs; these same victims may have to pay out-of-pocket costs to have their health insurance restored. Nearly half of all victims lost their health coverage completely because of the fraud, and another third saw their premiums soar.
And to make matters even worse, some 30% of these victims don’t find out about it for a year, while more than 20% don’t learn of it for two or more years, making it almost impossible to find the culprit. Three quarters of the victims reported that resolving all the issues triggered by the thefts was very, very difficult and frustrating.
What to do?
Early detection is obviously very important. This will help clear your name and eliminate your financial responsibility for the crime. You will also have to ascertain that erroneous information is not now part of your medical record.
The Federal Trade Commission indicates that you might be a medical identity theft victim if:
- You receive a bill, either from a doctor or a debt collector, for medical services you did not receive.
- Your credit report contains medical collections you do not recognize.
- Your insurance claim is denied for reaching the limit on benefits.
- Your health insurance application is denied because of a health condition you do not have.
To protect your medical identification, consider the following:
- Keep your medical records in a locked file cabinet or safe.
- Be cautious about storing these documents on your computer – they are simple to access and are all too easily recovered by smart thieves even if ‘erased’ should your equipment be lost, stolen and donated.
- Of course, do not share your social security number or health insurance plan number unless you absolutely trust the company you are dealing with. And no personal stuff via e-mail. To anyone.
- Shred documents that include your personal or medical information, including billing notices, health insurance forms, Rx labels, old insurance cards and the like.
- Monitor mistakes and inaccuracies in your ‘Explanation of Benefits‘ statements. Report discrepancies immediately.
- Acquire annual credit reports to check for fraudulent medical debts.
- Protect your health insurance plan ID card – treat it like a credit card.
- Regularly review your medical records to be sure treatment data is accurate. Pay careful attention whenever a healthcare provider reviews your medical history with you. One of the scarier consequences of medical identity theft could be your getting the wrong medical treatment because of errors in your file: wrong blood type, test results that do not belong to you, records of treatment you have never received, diagnosis of an illness you have never had.
- You will need to contact your local police department if you have been a victim of fraud and work closely with your insurance company and medical providers to clear your name of the charges.