Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Identity Theft - Medical Style

I'm sure we're all aware of the recent phenomenon of identity theft and the financial issues it has caused thousands of people. Well, as I alluded to in my last post, I was made aware of an issue by our Medical Records Director that I hadn't ever given consideration. Medical Identity Theft!

The Director described several instances in the last year of individuals presenting to the ER for medical care and using stolen insurance cards. The more I thought about it the more I surmised that this would be harder to catch than trying to nab people using stolen credit cards.

Think about it. You go to the ER or your physician's office and give them your insurance card which, they copy and give back to you. You receive your service, make your co-pay, and you're out the door. Weeks later you receive your EOB of which you review, well, some of you review. Therein lies the problem. You won't even discover that someone has stolen your medical identity until weeks later and they're long gone. In the mean time, while you attempt to straighten this out, the medical providers turn you over to a collection agency and now you have issues not only with your medical records but your finances as well. Think its far-fetched? This poor soul didn't even have his insurance card stole and he still became a victim on an ID alone.

There are even more versions of medical identity theft. You could be laid up in the ICU and someone takes your identity and runs with it. Criminals are also purchasing medical supplies and equipment with health insurance info and then fencing them on the gray market to support their other dubious endeavors. This widow reports on the FTC website that she avoided possible tragedy when someone admitted herself into the hospital in her name with a different blood type than hers. Had she not checked when she needed an infusion she could have possibly received the wrong blood type.

In a recent article, the University of Connecticut notes that it has experienced this problem to the tune of $76,000 for one patient alone and is taking aim at correcting it by requiring picture ID's for all services. They have already experienced positive results of their new policy. Several people have presented for care and have stated they left their ID in the car only to never return after going to retrieve it.

How can you help protect yourself? Carolyn Pennington of UCONN states in her article that the State of Connecticut recommends the following:

The state insurance department offers tips for protecting yourself:
  • Never give out health insurance information over the phone.
  • If you lose your card, call your insurance company right away.
  • Keep your health insurance information private, even from family members.
The ol' cliche, "It takes all kinds," seems to ring true here.

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Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.