Medical Identity Theft on the Rise

Over 250,000 Americans fall victim to medical identity theft each year, according to an article by the New York Times, and the increased use of electronic medical records with less than adequate privacy protection has allowed this number to rise. Medical identity theft is easily carried out when thieves attain someone’s name and Social Security number, insurance group policy number and member ID, or by downloading personal health information from medical office or hospital computer systems. Many people are completely unaware that they are victims of medical identity theft and that their insurance providers are paying fraudulent claims.

Aside from financial problems, victims of medical identity theft may face severe medical consequences if physicians treat them based on false information in their patient charts, such as incorrect blood type or allergies. This inaccurate information may also be passed along to several medical offices or hospitals, and in general patients must correct it separately at each individual location.

According to the article, the policies that protect people from standard identity theft, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, do not exist for medical identity theft. For example, whereas people can receive a free copy of their credit report every year, there are large costs involved in obtaining your own medical records.

To prevent medical identity theft, some medical offices now require that patients show photo ID, to be compared with photos in their patient charts, and others use password protection on all electronic medical records. However, with President Obama’s plan to significantly increase the use of electronic medical records, much greater precautions will need to be implemented.

Creditors and financial institutions, which include healthcare providers that allow patients to establish payment programs, should currently be implementing identity theft prevention programs. Enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission of the Red Flag Rules, which aim to identify possible acts of identity theft, is set to begin on August 1, 2009.

For the full text of the New York Times article, please click here.

For more information or for assistance developing your Identity Theft Program, please call Abby Pendleton, Esq. or Jessica L. Gustafson, Esq. at (248) 996-8510, Adrienne Dresevic, Esq. or Carey F. Kalmowitz, Esq., visit The HLP website’s Compliance and HIPAA page, or The HLP website.

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