Better Business

Robb Hicken: Guard your medical identity to protect your money, health

Chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionFebruary 19, 2014 

You’d never leave your Social Security card lying about for anyone to see. You’d never give your bank account or credit card numbers over the telephone to a stranger. You guard your driver’s license impeccably.

But more than 1.8 million people had their medical insurance information stolen in 2013, and more are expected to become victims of medical identity theft this year

Medical identity theft happens when someone misuses your personal identity or health insurance information to get medical services. Unlike traditional identity theft, it doesn’t require a Social Security number. All that’s needed is your name, date of birth and address. It happens frequently in the emergency room, where a hospital has to take in any emergency patient with little opportunity to verify the patient’s billing information.

While medical identity theft losses fall mostly on the health care industry and government, the research organization Poneman Institute says about 36 percent of victims in 2013 suffered out-of-pocket costs on average of $18,660 for repayments for services, legal fees and identity protection services.

Financial losses are only one problem. If you are a victim, you’ll be asked by the hospital’s billing department, Medicare or your insurer to prove you did not receive treatment. That may take months or years, and mixed medical data could cost you your life.

When people illegally use your medical identity, they also add to your medical history. The Internet makes a patient’s prior information available and updatable from anywhere in the country. A thief gets a prescription drug, treatment for a disease, a surgery or anything else and suddenly it’s on your medical record. That can interfere with your pharmacy, with diagnoses of illness and with treatment in an emergency.

Remember:

• Protect your health insurance information and related paperwork, just as you would protect your financial identity information. Do not carry insurance cards with you unless needed for that particular day. Store them in a safe place.

• Check with your health insurer regularly to make sure your records do not show payments for medical services you never received.

• Avoid offers of “free” or “low-cost medical services” that ask for health insurance details or other sensitive information unless you check into the provider first.

If you find out you are a victim of medical identity theft, file a report with your local police department. Tell police all the information you know. Next, talk with the hospital or urgent care center that provided treatment, giving them proof you were not treated.

Contact your insurance provider or Medicare and obtain an update on your insurance billing information. Make sure to detail in writing how you discovered the theft and the dates you began researching it. Some medical providers require forms, but it’s a good idea to write down what happened and keep a copy.

Finally, check with your doctor. Because the Internet makes electronic records instantly available, tracking down all the providers may be difficult.

rhicken@boise.bbb.org, 947-2115

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