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Friday, March 28, 2008


I plan to bring this series on medical identity theft to an end today with the startling but not new fact that it can kill you. Dramatic? Yes. Overstated? No. I did a blog in April of 2007, “If Stealing Your Name and Personal Data Weren’t Enough…Medical ID Theft Increases.” It follows a fictitious person who goes to the emergency room, gets the blood type of the thief who stole the real person’s identity, because the crook had an appendectomy in the real person’s name. If that didn’t do him or her in, the real person is given a drug to which they are highly allergic. All because the bad guy’s medical files were merged with the real person’s. Health care providers had become more cautious over this potential mistake even then, and it has only become worse. Even Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum confirms: "People can die from this crime." Naturally, the organized crime element discovered there was a fortune to be made on medical identity theft IDs (selling for $50) as compared to financial identity theft (Social Security numbers going for $1). In some cases this results from the desperation of some 45 to 50 million Americans without health insurance. Here’s a great line from a article written by Amy Buttell Crane : “Financial identity theft might wound your wallet, but medical identity theft can kill you.” Bankrate is a leading provider of financial information and research, and you should read this article if you have the time. The basics: “Medical identity theft occurs when criminals obtain information such as a health insurance identification or Social Security number and use it to get health care or to obtain reimbursement from insurers and others for false claims.” Crane says the least of your problems will be the financial side of medical ID theft. Do you realize just how grave a statement this is when financial identity theft has been the leading consumer fraud for the last seven years, causing billions of dollars of damages to consumers, as well as business and government? Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is so full of loopholes, and the federal government isn’t even enforcing the provisions that might help victims, the medical consequences are made much worse, according to Crane. This could affect victims’ lifetime care insurance caps, and make it near impossible to get future medical, life, long-tern and supplemental insurance. And here’s the shocker: “a 2006 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, "The Global State of Security," reveals that data security isn't a high priority at health care facilities in the United States and around the world.” But everyone doesn’t think the “identity crisis” is for real. Jim Harper, author of a book I wouldn’t recommend on the subject, thinks medical identity theft is a “marginal risk” along with things like being hit by lightning, or being involved in a terrorist attack. Crane quotes him further: "The definitions that are being used to compile these statistics are overbroad." In other words, don’t cry wolf until you’ve discovered you just received the wrong blood in a transfusion. Pam Dixon adds: "one person being victimized by medical identity theft is a problem and something we need to be concerned about." That seems to be the major problem with business and government today; unless the harm is done to the masses, they can live with it and expect us to, and that is why the poor consumer continues to suffer needlessly in the growing identity crisis.

The article closes with seven points the experts recommend to help prevent medical ID theft: 1) Demand to look at your medical records; 2) Shred all personal health-related documents; 3) Place all confidential mail in the box at the Post Office; 4) Protect your ID; 5) The law allows you to request restrictions on communications between your health care providers and third parties, but it isn’t backed by HIPAA; 6) Check any medical records you are able to access online; 7) If necessary, request private medical information communication by alternative means, to prevent something like changing your address.