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FYI: Protect Yourself Against Medical Identity Theft

Because medical identity theft is a growing problem in the U.S., I thought another, open-access digital edition of Scott J. Wilson’s The Five column (“Don’t Get Hurt by Medical Identity Theft”) printed in the 4 November 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times (p. B2), was a good idea.

As always, Wilson sums up our options, along with recommended actions, in 5 simple steps.

His advice is both useful and timely.

[ Wilson’s Sunday column for the Business section of the Los Angeles Times ]

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T H E   F I V E

Don’t Get Hurt by Medical Identity Theft

by   S C O T T  J.  W I L S O N

An identity thief who gains access to your credit card or bank account could harm you financially, but one who steals your medical information could also endanger your health. Here are key things to know about medical identity theft:

No. 1When an impostor uses your identity to get hospital care, order prescription drugs or submit fraudulent insurance claims, false information may end up in your medical record. This could be ‘a different blood type, an inaccurate history of drug or alcohol abuse, test results that aren’t yours, or a diagnosis of an illness, allergy or condition you don’t have,’ the Federal Trade Commission warned.

No. 2Be wary of callers asking for medical information. ‘Medical identity thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information,’ the FTC said. Don’t automatically trust groups or people who offer free medical services in exchange for your health plan ID. Shred healthcare documents you no longer need.

No. 3Be concerned if you get bills for medical services you never received or if you unexpectedly reach a limit on insurance benefits. Another red flag: being denied for an insurance policy due to a condition you don’t have. Check your credit report for medical debts you don’t recognize, and visit www.mib.com, run by a group of insurance companies, to see if anyone has applied for life or health insurance using your name.

No. 4To check for identity theft, contact your insurer and healthcare providers and ask to see your medical records, a right you have under federal law. When you do, it’s best not to say you suspect identity theft because some providers may then block you, believing they must protect the impostor’s privacy (this is a mistaken belief, according to the FTC). They have up to 30 days to comply with your request.

No. 5You are also entitled to ask your insurer and healthcare providers for an accounting of information that has been disclosed from your medical records and to whom it was given. ‘It will help you follow the trail of your information and identify who has incorrect information about you,’ the FTC said. You may order one free copy of the accounting every 12 months from each provider.

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Click/tap here to go to the online edition of Wilson’s column at the Los Angeles Times website, where you can interact with Wilson’s piece (comment on it, and read the comments of others).

Panel from "Roses", a mixed-media work by Tuck Contreras

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