Los Angeles Times examines medical identity theft problems, risks

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The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined medical identity fraud, in which individuals use the names and medical records of others to obtain health care.

According to a 2003 federal report, at least 200,000 identity theft cases involved medical identity fraud.

Experts "believe that the rising cost of health care is driving more identity theft and that many people are unaware they have become victims unless they receive a hospital bill or query from their insurer," according to the Times.

Medical identify fraud "is easy when so many in the medical field have access to intimate records and patients are admitted without having to" submit proof of identity, the Times reports.

According to the Times, some health insurers have established hotlines to report medical identity fraud and in some cases deny payment of "suspicious" hospital bills, but that leaves victims of medical identity fraud to "make their own cases to the hospitals, the bill collectors and the credit agencies."

In addition to bills from hospitals and health insurers "fraudulently run up" by others, victims of medical identity fraud "face a greater risk of injury or even death if doctors make treatment decisions" based on errors in their medical records that can result, the Times reports.

Medical privacy rules established under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act "can make it difficult for patients to see their own medical records" when identity theft is suspected, the Times reports.

In addition, "once a person tells a keeper of records that someone else's data might be intermingled, the file becomes even harder to obtain" because "it includes another person's medical history, which many hospitals argue can't be turned over without consent," according to the Times (Menn, Los Angeles Times, 9/25).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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