Allan Pomerantz

Medical Identity Theft: Your Money or Your Life

What could be worse than ID theft of your financial identity? After all, you could lose thousands of dollars, spend days on the phone with financial institutions, credit bureaus, and merchants. Your interest rates could climb on your credit card debt due to the practice of “universal default” used by credit card companies which means that all creditors can raise your rates based on one reported late payment. You might even be turned down for insurance or even a job. So is this as bad as it can get?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. The above issues can cause you financial pain while medical identity theft (here, here) can cost you your life, hence the old robber’s ultimatum – your money or your life.

Medical identity theft is a growing, if under reported problem. But what makes it so serious? As we move to electronic medical records, think of the impact of someone posing as you having their medical records entered as yours. If you were rushed to the hospital unconscious, you could die from being given the wrong blood type. Or you could have needed medicine withheld because of an allergy you don’t have. It can also cut the other way. For example, you may be in diabetic shock, but you records don’t indicate you have diabetes.

With over 40 million people in the United States without medical insurance, this is a crime even honest (but desperate) people will commit. Further, it is probably much more difficult to correct this type of ID theft than financial ID theft because there are no central reporting authorities such as the credit bureaus.

There are some signs that at least the bigger medical providers are becoming alert to the problem because they now ask for proof of identity, usually via a driver’s license but these are easily forged.

There are e few things that you can do to protect yourself. First, read all EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) you receive from your health insurance company. Guard your health insurance card like your credit card. Beyond that, we must depend on our health care providers for protection.

One Comment

  1. Kris Jun 20, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how accurate your scenarios really are? I guess the incorrect blood type makes some sense, as there could be conflicting information in your files and the doctor would look at the most recent, but wouldn’t it be more likely that you’d still be listed as diabetic along with whatever other conditions the person who stole your medical identity might have? In other words, wouldn’t the more likely case be that you end up listed as having prescriptions that you don’t actually use, but that might conflict with another medication that the doctor wants to prescribe you? That would be something that the pharmacist would be the most likely person to catch, and would be a tipoff that your medical identity (really, just your health insurance info) had been compromised.

    Of course, universal health care would get rid of this problem entirely, but that’s neither here nor there…

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