Stolen Medical Identity Causes More Damage than Financial Identity Theft

by Adrienne Snavely

What would you do if someone stole your Social Security and insurance information and was using them to get medical care? Kathleen Meiners got bills for her son’s leg injury that he never had. She spent months fighting collection notices and fixing the medical records. This was reality for 2.3 million adult patients during 2014. Thieves are using personal data to get healthcare, prescriptions, and medical equipment. These criminal patients have their own health data put into your permanent health record, which may display diseases, drug allergies, or blood types that will create dangerous errors in your future treatments. Electronic medical record and insurance hackers are adding to medical identity theft, so much that insurance companies have formed the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance.

A credit card can be cancelled, but a health record is protected and is hard to access – even if the information belongs to a thief. Once thieves get Social Security, insurance policy, Medicare, or Medicaid numbers, they are sold on the black market for $50 each, compared to $6 for a credit card number. An illegal alien in Clinton, WI was sent to prison and ordered over $200,000 of restitution after getting medical care, including a liver transplant using a stolen Social Security number. Mrs. Meiners never found out how her son’s identity was stolen.

Sometimes the health care providers are the criminals. Dr. Kenneth Johnson of Glendale, CA performed fake exams on senior center patients in exchange for money or meals to get their personal data, which he used to write prescriptions for drugs to sell on the black market. Dr. Johnson was found guilty of healthcare fraud conspiracy and other charges.

The current medical system does not make it easy for victims of identity theft to fix the mess left behind. The first thing you should do is to file a police report and notify your insurance company. Most companies and healthcare providers will absorb the losses and clear any outstanding bills incurred, yet may try to get some money out of the victims. Nearly 65% of victims spent an average of $13,500 to restore their credit, pay off providers for these fraudulent claims, and correcting their health records. A woman whose identity was stolen for labor and delivery charges was also reported to Child Protective Services for the drug-positive newborn it resulted in. She had to go to court to get her name taken off the baby’s birth certificate – but it may still be in the child’s medical record, since that is inaccessible to her.

Hospitals are setting up special investigative departments to detect medical identity fraud. One hospital in Morristown, NJ is encrypting patient records, installing firewalls, spam filters, and other detection security. They also are requiring photo ID at time of patient check-in.
Armour, Stephanie. “How Identity Theft Sticks You With Hospital Bills.” Health Policy. The Wall Street Journal, 7 Aug 2015. Web. 20 Sep 2015.

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