There are a lot of different types of identity theft: financial, criminal, government, and child, just to name a few. But of all the various types of identity theft, there’s possibly no more dangerous kind than medical identity theft.
Medical ID theft occurs when someone uses your information to receive medical treatment, prescription drugs, or insurance coverage, but the end result is that their medical history can become permanently connected to yours. Even scarier, under HIPAA privacy laws, even if a case of medical identity theft occurs you’re not entitled to the information of the person who stole your identity; his medical information is as private as yours, and you cannot have access to it.
How can these consequences be deadly? If your medical records contain information on a different person, you could be treated for a life-threatening condition that you don’t have. You could be denied life-saving emergency treatment if it conflicts with conditions that are listed in “your” records. Prescription drugs can be administered to you even though you don’t actually need them, and even if you could actually be harmed by taking them since they’re for a condition you don’t have.
Now, members of Congress are asking for more accountability and more support for victims. The Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, under the leadership of bipartisan members Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), are requesting answers on what’s being done to help victims of this very serious form of identity theft. They’re asking how cases of medical identity theft are being tracked for statistical purposes, as well as how the current federal laws protect citizens from this crime.
This isn’t the first time Congress has demanded answers when it comes to citizens’ health privacy and the security of their information. Earlier this year, Alexander and Murray launched an initiative aimed at securing consumers’ personal data when it’s stored by healthcare agencies. This is especially important in the wake of major healthcare data breaches such as the ones experienced in recent years.
Fortunately, while the government addresses this very specific national concern, there are some steps citizens can take to prevent the fraudulent use of their data for medical reasons. First, safeguarding your Social Security number is vitally important, and refusing to let anyone use it as an identification number is key. If you’re asked for it at a doctor’s office or hospital, you’re not required to turn it over. Next, making sure you guard your health insurance information is important to protecting your overall medical records; think of your health insurance card like an unlimited ATM card with the PIN number printed on the back. Finally, look over all bills, insurance statements, and communications from a medical provider to make sure that you actually received the treatment listed in the documents. Don’t discard them without verifying the dates of service, and call the medical provider and your insurance company if there’s anything out of place.