Excellent article posted today by Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
The odds of your becoming a victim of identity theft are greater than ever. While most people think of ID theft as a financial threat, it can also impact your personal healthcare and well-being.
Data breaches exposed more than 29 million health records between 2010 and 2013, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The causes of these breaches include theft, improper disposal of data, and hacking.
A survey released in February by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA) reported that 2.32 million Americans have been victims of medical identity theft, in which personal health information was used fraudulently to get insurance, medical services, and prescription drugs. It’s a crime that has cost victims more than $20 billion. Even more alarming, medical ID theft can pose a life-threatening hazard for patients whose health records become unreliable.
“Medical identity fraud can hold devastating consequences if the perpetrator’s inaccurate health records are mixed with the patient whose identity has been stolen,” says Robin Slade, MIFA’s development coordinator. “What happens if you’re rushed to the hospital with appendicitis and your medical records inaccurately show that your appendix has already been removed? What happens if you have severe drug allergies, but the hospital records show you have none?”
If someone uses your identity and insurance to get health services, it can introduce misinformation on your medical records about blood type, pre-existing conditions, and medications that you take. All of which can lead to difficulty getting treatment, denial of health insurance, or medical mistakes.
Compounding the problem is “family fraud,” in which consumers willingly share personal information to help friends or relatives get medical treatment.
There are steps you can take to safeguard your information. Here are six simple ways to reduce your risk of medical ID theft:
- Read Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements. When those often hard-to-decipher health insurance statements come in the days after a doctor’s visit or hospital stay, don’t just file them away. EOBs show what treatments or services were submitted to the insurance company, along with applicable coverage and the amount of money owed by the patient. If anything looks odd, such as an unfamiliar procedure or a healthcare provider who’s unknown to you, then contact your insurance carrier immediately.
- Keep your insurance card in a safe place. If you’re like most people, you probably carry your medical insurance card with you all the time.But information could become compromised if your purse is stolen or you lose your wallet. Slade recommends carrying your card with you only when you need it — when you’re going to the doctor’s office or hospital — and keeping it in a secure location at home the rest of the time.
- Be careful when giving out personal information. Always think twice before sharing your health insurance identification numbers or social security number with anyone outside of a doctor’s office or hospital admissions. Be aware of who may be watching when you’re filling out paperwork. Remember that sharing personal information to help family or friends is fraud — and it still compromises your records.
- Do an annual review of all medical claims and credit reports. You should be reading EOBs carefully as you get them, but it’s a good idea to do a year-end review of all your medical claims and make sure everything lines up. Request free annual reports from the three credit bureaus and make sure there are no unexpected medical collections on them.
- If you spot an error on your medical records, get it fixed. It’s important that medical records be accurate and up to date. Even simple clerical errors can result in unnecessary charges. Misinformation or omissions can result in confusion down the road. You can request medical records from your healthcare provider, though individual laws vary by state. The American Health Information Management Association has guidelines on how to start the process.
- Shred outdated medical information or forms. In general, it’s a good idea to keep EOBs and medical bills for a year, in case you need proof of payment or coverage. After that, you should shred old documents to make sure they don’t get in the wrong hands.