Thursday, August 13th, 2015
Identity theft has spread from retail and banks to hospitals according to Stephanie Armour who reported the new contamination in her Wall Street Journal article, “How Identity Theft Sticks You With Hospital Bills: Thieves use stolen personal data to get treatment, drugs, medical equipment.”
The only way that Kathleen Meiners, the mother of a man in his 30s with Down syndrome, could stop harassment by a hospital that claimed he’d had an operation was through the newspaper’s intervention. Mrs. Meiners figured her son would quickly be off the hook after bringing him to the hospital so staff could see he’d had no procedure for a leg injury. But someone had to pay for the operation the identity thief had undergone so the hospital, ER physicians and radiologist continued to go after her son, eventually via collection agencies.
There’s more. With the thief’s medical charts “folded into” the victim’s, a person who doesn’t have diabetes might be shown to have it or the thief’s blood type might be listed as theirs. Mrs. Meiner’s son had no drug allergies but was listed as having some. Guess what? The victim can’t see the messed up medical records to untangle them because of privacy laws that protect the thief’s information.
Mrs. Meiners son isn’t alone. Armour wrote about a Florida woman who was charged for a foot amputation who showed up at the hospital to point out her two feet to no avail. A man learned someone had stolen all his benefits when he was refused a prescription refill.
Armour continued, “Fueling medical identity theft is the surge in electronic medical records and data breaches at insurers and health-care providers. Medical identity theft—in which someone fraudulently uses data to bill for medical services—affected 2.3 million adult patients in 2014 versus 1.4 million in 2009, according to a survey published in February by the Ponemon Institute LLC, a research concern.”
To help stem the tide, insurance companies have formed a Medical Identity Fraud Alliance and the FBI, Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] and the Justice Department are also investigating, according to Armour. And hospitals are getting into the act she wrote. BayCare Health System in Florida asks patients if they want the veins in a palm scanned which is then “converted into a number that correlates with the patient’s medical record.” Other hospitals ask to see photo ID and are increasing digital security. Medicare cards distributed by HHS will no longer imbed social security numbers or show code according to a law the President signed in April.
“Unlike in financial identity theft,” wrote Armour, “health identity-theft victims can remain on the hook for payment because there is no health-care equivalent of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which limits consumers’ monetary losses if someone uses their credit information.” In Ponemon’s survey “65% of victims reported they spent an average of $13,500 to restore credit, pay health-care providers for fraudulent claims and correct inaccuracies in their health records.”
Armour reported that social security, Medicare and Medicaid numbers are sold on the black market for $50 vs. $6-$7 for a credit card number. The latter can be cancelled quickly hence the lesser value. “Sometimes, health-care providers are the perpetrators,” she wrote. “Federal prosecutors charged Dr. Kenneth Johnson with using Manor Medical Imaging, a Glendale, Calif. clinic, to write prescriptions for drugs and then sell them on the black market.”
Were you aware of this twist in identity theft? What can be done about it?