Could identity thieves be using your personal and health insurance information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs or surgery? Could dishonest people working in a medical setting be using your information to submit false bills to insurance companies? Medical identity theft is a twist on traditional identity theft, which happens when someone steals your personal information. Like traditional identity theft, medical ID theft can affect your finances; but it also can take a toll on your health.
How would you know if your personal, health, or health insurance information has been compromised? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, you may be a victim of medical identity theft if:
Medical identity theft may change your medical and health insurance records: Every time a thief uses your identity to get care, a record is created with the imposter's medical information that could be mistaken for your medical information - say, a different blood type, an inaccurate history of drug or alcohol abuse, test results that aren't yours, or a diagnosis of an illness, allergy or condition you don't have. Any of these could lead to improper treatment, which in turn, could lead to injury, illness or worse.
While there's no fool-proof way to avoid medical identity theft, the FTC says you can take a few steps to minimize your risk.
Paying close attention to your medical, insurance and financial records can help you spot discrepancies and possible fraud.
Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement that your health plan sends you after treatment. Make sure the claims paid match the care you received. Look for the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided. If there's a discrepancy, contact your health plan to report the problem.
Order a copy of your credit reports, and review them carefully. Credit reports are full of information about you, including what accounts you have and whether you pay your bills in a timely way. The law requires each of three major nationwide credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit reports each year, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can download the form at www.ftc.gov/freereports.
Once you have your reports, look for inquiries from companies you didn't contact, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that your Social Security number, your address(es), name or initials, and your employers are listed correctly. If you find inaccurate or fraudulent information, get it fixed or removed. Visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft to learn how. Ask for a copy of your medical records. If you believe you've already been a victim of medical identity theft, review your medical and health insurance records regularly. The thief may have used your name to see a doctor, get prescription drugs with your health ID number, file claims with your insurance provider, or done other things that leave a trail in your medical records. Try to review your health records for inaccuracies before you seek additional medical care.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule gives you the right to copies of your records that are maintained by health plans and medical providers covered by that law. Health care providers and health plans generally are required to give you your files within 30 days after you ask for them. Unlike credit reports, there is no central source for your medical records. You need to contact each provider you do business with - including doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and health plans - that is relevant to your experience. For example, if a thief got a prescription in your name, you may want the record from the pharmacy that filled the prescription and the health care provider who wrote the prescription. Or if you've been using the same hospital for 20 years and you think that the identity theft is recent, you may want to limit your request to records of the last few years or months.
It's likely that you have to complete a form and pay a fee to get a copy of your records. Keep track of your communications with your health plan and providers, including copies of postal and email correspondence, and a log of your phone calls, conversations and activities. Be patient: Health plans and providers, particularly small ones, may not have handled a claim of medical identity theft before, and may not be sure how to respond.
In most instances, a provider who denies you access to your records must give you the reason in writing. Some providers may refuse to give you copies of your medical or billing records for fear that they're violating the identity thief's HIPAA privacy rights. These providers are mistaken: You have the right to know what's in your file. If your request is denied, you have the right to appeal. Contact the person identified in the provider's Notice of Privacy Practices or the patient representative or ombudsman, explain the situation and request your file. If a provider still refuses to give you access to your records within 30 days of your written request, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights, at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
You also should get a copy of the accounting of disclosures for your medical record from your health plan and providers. It will help you follow the trail of your information and identify who has incorrect information about you. The law allows you to order one free copy of the accounting from each of your providers every 12 months. The accounting is a record of:
Certain disclosures that occur often or as a matter of routine - like each time a doctor's office sends treatment information to another health care provider, or sends payment information to an insurer for reimbursement - may not be included in the accounting.
For more information about your rights under HIPAA, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr, or the World Privacy Forum at www.worldprivacyforum.org/FAQ_medicalrecordprivacy.html.
If you are a victim of medical identity theft, here are several steps to take immediately.
Generally, your health plan or medical provider must respond: The creator of the information is obligated to amend the inaccurate or incomplete information. It also should notify other parties, like labs or other health care providers, that may have received incorrect information. If an investigation doesn't resolve your dispute with your plan or provider, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your record.
A fraud alert can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Contact only one of the three companies to place an alert. The one you call is required to contact the others that, in turn, place an alert on their versions of your report, too.
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790 Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
A security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, is a warning sign to businesses or others who may use your credit file. It locks down your credit file and blocks access by potential creditors. In short, it makes it less likely that an identity thief can open new accounts. Most states have laws that allow consumers to place a credit freeze with credit reporting companies. In many of these states, any consumer can freeze their credit file; in others, only identity theft victims can freeze their files.
Placing a credit freeze does not affect your credit score, keep you from getting your free annual credit report, or keep you from buying your credit report or score. It doesn't prevent you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance, either. In these situations, the business usually needs to review your credit report. You can ask the credit reporting company to lift your credit freeze temporarily, or remove it altogether.
There are two key differences between security freezes and fraud alerts:
If you believe you are a victim of medical identity theft and are concerned that your identity could be compromised further - say, by credit accounts being opened in your name - you may want to consider a freeze as an additional layer of protection.
For information about getting and correcting your medical records:
World Privacy Forum 2033 San Elijo Avenue, #402 Cardiff by the Sea, CA 92007 www.worldprivacyforum.org 760-436-2489
Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy Health Policy Institute Georgetown University Box 57144 Washington DC 20057-1485 http://ihcrp.georgetown.edu/privacy/records.html 202-687-0880
If you believe that a health plan or provider violated your rights under HIPAA, you may want to file a complaint with:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights 200 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20201 www.hhs.gov/ocr
Below are some links to other web sites that may be helpful resources:
If you have questions, check with a legal resource in your community. Advice presented here is not intended to replace information or advice from an attorney.
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