Questions about medical identity theft

Shirley Rooker,

WASHINGTON – The headlines are frightening, proclaiming medical identity theft is a killer. Is it hype or fact?

We hear a lot about people having their identity stolen. How does medical identity theft fit into that picture?

Both issues involve people pretending to be you and using your information for financial gain. In the one, it involves your financial identity, while the other involves your medical identity. Someone pretending to be you has expensive medical procedures and the bills end up in your mailbox. Or they may be in cahoots with a crooked doctor and purchase controlled drugs in your name. But the damage is much greater than just financial harm.

For example, suppose someone with a serious illness uses your identity to have surgery. Getting the bill for that procedure is just the beginning of your problems. Beyond the financial issue is the concern that your medical record will be inaccurate and when you require medical attention, your doctors may have information that is for someone else. This misinformation can affect the type of treatment you receive.

Another type of medical identity theft involves organized crime members using your medical information to file false insurance claims. The Medical Information Bureau contains information on insurance policies and claims made within the last seven years. You have the right to one free report each year. Information for making the request can be found here.

How can we safeguard our medical identity?

You have the right to view your medical records and to get copies of them. Health care providers are allowed to charge a modest fee for copying the records. There is a law – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – that lays out procedures for maintaining your medical information.

If you receive bills from medical facilities or doctors you don’t recognize, don’t just toss them. You need to investigate to make certain someone isn’t posing as you.

While medical identity theft isn’t that common, it can cause serious problems for its victims. That’s why it’s important to be alert to signs you could be a victim.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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