Can Medical Identity Theft Really Kill You? [Burning Questions Ep. 2]

There has been a great deal in the news about medical identity theft leading to death. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Less likely than dying of a heart attack because you eat too much bacon. But let’s explore the possibility of death by medical identity theft (below, in this article), and why the threat gets sensationalized (in the video).

Imagine being rushed to the emergency room after a severe accident. When you arrive, you are denied services because your benefits have been maxed out. Or imagine your child being given a transfusion with the wrong blood type because his medical file had been mistakenly appended with the blood type of an identity thief using his health insurance number.

Unthinkable, right?  Not really since medical identity theft is up nearly 20 % in the last year.  The number of people affected has grown from 1.52 to 1.84 million.  How serious is that?  To put this into easy terms to understand, if this were a disease, it would be an epidemic!

These statistics were released by the Ponemon Institute in their 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theft.  For the purposes of this study, medical identity theft occurs when someone uses an individual’s name and personal identity to fraudulently receive medical services, goods, and/or prescription drugs, including attempts to commit fraudulent billing.  Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute didn’t mince words on the subject, saying, “Medical identity theft is tainting the healthcare ecosystem, much like poisoning the town’s water supply. Everyone will be affected. These are some of the key findings of the report:

Medical identity theft can cause serious medical and financial consequences, yet most consumers are unaware of the dangers.

It has resulted in victims forking out more than $12 billion in out-of-pocket costs. And we wonder why the costs of health care keep going up? So while financial identity theft threatens your wealth, medical identity theft can threaten your life. 

Of respondents to the survey affected by medical identity theft,

  • 15% of medical ID theft victims say the fraud resulted in a misdiagnosis.
  • 13% received an inaccurate treatment.
  • 14% experienced a delay in treatment.
  • 11% got the wrong prescription drugs.
  • Almost half of those patients (48%) say those issues have not been resolved.

Consumers often share their medical identification with family members or friends, putting themselves at risk.  Family fraud accounts for more than half of medical identity theft cases and 30% of the respondents knowingly shared their personal information to allow a family member to use their personal IDs to receive medical treatment, health care products, or pharmaceuticals.

Most consumers don’t take action to protect their health information, but you should!

Here’s how to keep medical identity theft from killing you:

1.  Prevent theft of your medically identifying information in the first place:

  • Be sure you’re dealing with a reputable provider before providing insurance information, particularly with the increase of ordering pharmaceuticals over the internet and with the opening of Health Exchanges and Marketplaces mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
  • Store insurance-related paperwork in a safe or shred it if you no longer need it. Alternatively, scan the documents and store them behind a password in a computer.
  • Never let your health insurance card out of your site & alert your insurance carrier of misplaced, lost, or stolen cards to avoid unauthorized use.
  • Scrutinize new Health Insurance Marketplaces, which will become a fraud hotbed before turning over any of your information.

2.  Cross examine your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) to ensure the doctors listed and services provided are accurate. Your EOB comes in the mail anytime you receive services after a doctor’s office or hospital visit.

3.  Get an annual “Benefits Request Checkup” from your insurance provider to see a list of all benefits and services paid in your name. If you don’t recognize services, start asking questions of your doctor, hospital and insurance company.

4.  Scrutinize free annual credit report for credit-related healthcare errors and be sure your reports are free of any medical liens.

In the scheme of things we deem important in life, taking care of our health should be top on the list.  Taking these easy steps is one more way to do it, and it could save your life!

John Sileo is an identity theft speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to protect the private data that makes them profitable. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.