Critical Care: The Far-Reaching Effects of Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft isn't just expensive--it could cost your clients their lives.Medical identity theft isn’t just expensive–it could cost your clients their lives.

The words “identity theft” conjure up a pretty frightening picture. However, medical identity theft can not only threaten your clients’ financial well-being, but their lives as well.

Surprisingly, most people seem unaware of the ramifications of medical identity theft, despite the fact that its effects can be considerably farther-reaching than conventional identity theft, up to and including threatening the victim’s very life.

Think that’s an exaggeration? If someone steals your medical identity, you could be left with a denial of coverage because you’ve supposedly exceeded maximum benefits for the year. You could be denied coverage altogether because your medical records indicate a condition you don’t even have.

Your records could say your blood type is B+ when it’s actually A-, that you have no allergies when you’re deathly allergic to sulfa drugs, or that the appendix that has just burst and is turning your insides septic has already been removed. These are not errors you want to encounter in the emergency room.

Medical identity theft is growing faster than conventional identity theft, making up as much as 43% of all identity theft, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Around 1.84 million people were hit with medical identity theft in 2013—that’s up 19% from 2012.

And the numbers are still on the rise. The latest survey on patient privacy and data security from the Ponemon Institute shows that health care providers have suffered 100% more cyberattacks since 2010, despite an increase in measures designed to prevent them.

If someone steals your credit card, legally you’re only on the hook for $50—and that’s if the credit card company doesn’t waive that $50, which most do. There’s no such protection in medical identity theft. Ponemon’s fourth annual survey on medical identity theft found that victims spent an average of $18,660 “to restore their medical identity,” which included paying bills that weren’t theirs; paying for medical services because their coverage had lapsed thanks to the theft; and paying for identity protection, legal counsel and credit reporting to straighten out the mess.

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