Identity theft – it's a phrase that conjures up fear and concern, worries that are, unfortunately, justified in today's environment. Fewer people, however, are aware of the growing threat of medical identity theft. It is a problem with both economic and health consequences. As a Panama City victim's law firm, we hope to help increase awareness and, ultimately, reverse the growing trend of identity theft in all its forms.
Recently Kaiser Health News, a non-profit news organization focused on health care policy issues, released a report on medical identity theft that called the problem the most virulent strain in the modern identity theft plague. Medical identity theft is defined as the fraudulent acquisition of a person's identifying information, such as a social security number or insurance policy ID, in order to illegally obtain prescription medication, medical devices, medical services, or insurance reimbursements.
Kaiser Health cites a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center finding 43% of all identity theft in the United States during 2013 involved medical matters. This makes medical identity theft more common that identity theft related to banking and finance, government and military, or education matters.
Medical identity theft impacts both the individual and society as a whole. On a broader level, medical identity theft fuels healthcare fraud and depletes the already-strained budgets of Medicare and other healthcare programs. It also provides a steady stream of drugs to the growing illegal trade in prescription medications, a trade that leads to addiction, impaired driving, and other dangers.
On the individual level, the financial repercussions include being incorrectly billed for medical treatments and the potentially high cost of repairing one's health records. However, the health-related consequences can be much more concerning than the economic impact on the individual. A patient may struggle to get needed care due to fraudulently depleted benefit plans.
Providers may also rely on an inaccurate record and provide inappropriate treatments, especially during an emergency when the individual cannot speak and is unable to provide clarification. This can be a life-threatening – an actual allergy may be overlooked, the wrong type of blood may be administered, or a doctor may not provide the best treatment because of concerns related to the inaccurate record, such as a conflict with a prescription the patient isn't actually taking.
The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") hosts a website that discusses preventing, detecting, and correcting medical identity theft. The FTC suggests reading medical and insurance statements, reviewing “Explanation of Benefits” or “Medicare Summary Notices,” and being alert to bills or calls that don't reflect your medical history. In terms of prevention, the agency advises watching for suspicious advertising (i.e. a company offering "free" medical products), being careful about providing medical/insurance information to unknown parties, entering information online only via secure websites, keeping records in a safe place, and shredding records before throwing anything away.
While the FTC provides some useful advice for victims of medical identity theft, we'd urge consumers not to go it alone. Consumer groups and legal advocates are available to help. As for possible civil claims, our Panama City injury law firm notes that it can often be hard to find the actual perpetrator. However, a victim may also have legal claims against individuals or organizations that failed to protect identifying information. Additionally, employees who become aware that their employer has engaged in medical identity theft can play a critical role in Fair Claims Act lawsuits aimed at stopping healthcare fraud. Employees who bring such claims are protected from retaliation and may be eligible for substantial monetary awards.