ID theft in medical records

It is likely you may have heard of break-ins to personal data sets, such as the veterans affairs in the US or various banks or universities. In the US, at least, there are frequent TV ads about identity theft, including the two older women who end up buying tricked out motorcycles without their consent.

This LA Times article points out another, possibly deadlier, version of ID theft.

I know it doesn’t even require a theft to have errors in the health system. Our regional health monopoly frequently charges insurance companies (and therefore patients for the remaining excess charges) for treatment never received or for unneccessary procedures. Protests to billing doesn’t clear the charges. The bills are sent out to a collection agency. Protests to the insurance company don’t work; it is cheaper for them simply to process the charges. There is no internal checking mechanism because all charges not billed to insurance are eventually paid by the Federal government as part of their trust responsibility. There is no third party recourse in rural or frontier areas.

  • But until I read this article, I had no idea that erroneous medical information, not just the billing problems, would get passed along. This is truly scary.

The problem of access to one’s medical records predates the HIPAA legislation. Doctors and hospitals have felt patients are unable to understand their records so refused to allow individuals to see their records. I have had a couple of doctors seize X-rays and letters from other physicians, “for my records”, and not return them to me. I had let the doctor see the records for their assistance in my health.

On the other hand I have had excellent primary care physicians who would copy my file for me, when I needed to transfer to another place. Regrettably, there seem to be fewer and fewer instances of genuine medical partnership.

ID Theft Infects Medical Records
Victims face bogus bills and risk injury or death. Privacy laws make such fraud hard to pursue.
By Joseph Menn, Times Staff Writer, September 25, 2006

To guard against identity theft, patients should:

• Ask to see their medical files from each provider on a regular basis;
• Scan medical and insurance bills for services, medicine and equipment they didn’t receive;
• Demand an annual list from their health insurance company of benefits that have been provided.

If medical records have been compromised:

• Ask the healthcare providers to delete the incorrect information and contact everyone they have shared that information with, as required by the health insurance act;
• Ask the providers for a list of those recipients, and follow up with them;
• Clean up records with the health insurer and make sure the provider has not passed along improper benefit reports to insurance databases;
• Scrutinize credit reports for unpaid medical bills;
• File a police report;
• Contact the Federal Trade Commission and state health and insurance departments.

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