Medical Identity Theft Increasing
Rising health care costs are driving medical identity theft, in which individuals use the names and medical records of others to obtain health care, according to experts, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to a 2003 federal report, at least 200,000 identity theft cases involved medical identity fraud. Most victims are unaware of the medical identity theft unless they receive a hospital bill or query from their insurer.
Medical identity fraud "is easy when so many in the medical field have access to intimate records and patients are admitted without having to" submit proof of identity, the Times reports. Some health insurers have established hotlines to report medical identity fraud and in some cases deny payment of "suspicious" hospital bills, but that leaves victims of medical identity fraud to "make their own cases to the hospitals, the bill collectors and the credit agencies," according to the Times.
In addition to bills from hospitals and health insurers "fraudulently run up" by others, victims of medical identity fraud "face a greater risk of injury or even death if doctors make treatment decisions" based on errors in their medical records that can result, the Times reports.
Medical privacy rules established under HIPAA "can make it difficult for patients to see their own medical records" when identity theft is suspected, the Times reports. In addition, "once a person tells a keeper of records that someone else's data might be intermingled, the file becomes even harder to obtain" because "it includes another person's medical history, which many hospitals argue can't be turned over without consent," according to the Times (Menn, Los Angeles Times, 9/25).