Last year, nearly two million Americans became a victim of medical identity theft, 32 percent more than the year before. Today, medical identity theft accounts for 43 percent of all identity theft in the United States, and cases are rising faster than any other type of identity theft.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses another person’s name and other personal attributes to fraudulently receive medical products or services, including prescription drugs and insurance reimbursements. As this crime becomes increasingly more common, it’s important to consider some of its terrifying ramifications.
It Can Seriously Damage Medical Records
Half of Americans don’t realize that medical identity theft can cause permanent damage to their medical records. This damage could see victims of medical identity theft receiving incorrect or even life-threatening treatment in the future.
Imagine you’re in the emergency room, unconscious and rapidly losing blood. If you were awake you could tell the doctors that your blood type is B+, but once you’re knocked out they can only consult your medical records — the ones that say you’re A- after an identity thief had a blood test.
If you receive incompatible blood, antibodies in your blood will attack and destroy the donor red blood cells, which could cause fevers, bleeding, shortness of breath, and kidney damage. Similarly, if the person who stole your medical identity had no allergies, the doctors might prescribe one of the sulfa drugs you’re really deathly allergic to.
These aren’t just theoretical problems. Studies show that around 15 percent of medical theft victims in the United States have been misdiagnosed and 13 percent received mistreatment due to incorrect medical records. More than one in 10 victims were prescribed the wrong pharmaceuticals as a result of this problem.
Despite these concerns, roughly half of all American medical theft victims do nothing to resolve their records. This complacency leaves them open to serious medical concerns in the future.
It’s Costing Individuals Thousands
The cost of straightening out medical records may deter many victims from taking actions. If someone steals your credit card and begins to use it, most credit card companies will waive the charges and restore your financial records.
However, victims of medical identity theft receive no such protection. As a result, the costs associated with medical identity theft tend to be six times greater than for financial identity theft.
In 2013, medical identity theft costs American victims about $12.3 billion in out-of-pocket expenses. Each victim spent an average of $22,346 paying bills they didn’t incur, paying larger fees for medical treatment after their insurance coverage erroneously lapsed, and paying for legal counsel, identity protection, and credit reporting to correct the damage.
Could you afford more than $20k straightening out such a mess? Even if you could, don’t expect that flashing cash will make the problem disappear. On average, it takes more than a year for victims to straighten out the damage caused by medical identity theft.
It Impacts Victim’s Insurance Coverage
Your healthcare provider looks at your medical records when determining your coverage, so it makes sense that any changes made through medical identity theft can seriously impact your insurance.
For example, any treatments you really need might not be covered because your records insist you’ve exceeded your maximum yearly benefits. You might even be denied insurance coverage entirely because your medical records claim you have a serious medical condition, such as AIDS or Parkinson’s disease, that you don’t have.
This problem might not just affect your health insurance, either. Imagine you decide it’s time to apply for life insurance to protect your spouse and children once you’re gone. This too might be rejected because your medical records incorrectly show you’re a high risk because of a chronic condition. You might even be rejected for a job if a prospective employer investigates your erroneous medical records.
These problems are happening to real Americans with frightening regularity. Almost two out of every five American victims of medical identity theft lost their insurance coverage because of security breaches.
It’s Harming Healthcare Providers
As the rate of medical identity theft grows, Americans are losing faith in their healthcare providers. Fifty-six percent of American medical identity theft victims say they’ve lost confidence and trust in their healthcare provider after the crime occurred.
So many Americans believe healthcare providers are responsible for protecting their medical records that 57 percent of local consumers would abandon their current provider if they couldn’t safeguard their records. Clearly, any breach in trust resulting from medical identity theft would seriously impact a healthcare provider’s bottom line.
This is troubling for healthcare providers who are expected to help Americans who don’t help themselves. Half of Americans don’t take any steps to protect themselves from medical identity theft. These steps might include checking their health records and Explanation of Benefits.
Fifty-two percent of Americans who find unfamiliar health claims in their records never report them. Even though “family fraud” is on the rise, 30 percent of Americans allow family members to use their personal identification to obtain medical services.
Correcting medical records can also be expensive for healthcare providers. Studies suggest that addressing a medical data breach can cost providers around $211 for every individual record affected. Additionally, companies that don’t follow regulatory requirements established by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act may face $1.5 million in fines and damages.
It Could Ruin Doctors’ Careers
Medical identity theft has the power to damage not just faceless healthcare providers, but the careers of honest doctors, too. If a thief steals their medical records, they may face substantial bills and legal action. Patients may also lose faith in their practitioner and take their business elsewhere.
Many doctors’ offices and medical firms lack the security measures needed to keep their records secure, even though they’re legally responsible for safeguarding patient information. Many medical firms allow staff members to access patient records via their own devices.
Most don’t even require these devices to have antivirus programs and virtual private networks installed. Without such security measures in place, doctors and other medical staff may become unwitting accomplices to medical identity theft.
These terrifying ramifications of medical identity theft should remind all Americans of the importance of protecting their privacy.