Attorney General Kamala D. Harris released guidelines on Thursday to help prevent medical identity theft, including tips and recommendations for the health care industry, providers and consumers.
“Medical identity theft has been called the privacy crime that can kill,” Harris said in a press release from her office. “As the Affordable Care Act encourages the move to electronic medical records, the health care industry has an opportunity to improve public health and combat medical identity theft with forward-looking policies and the strategic use of technology.”
Medical identity theft occurs when a person uses someone else’s personal information to obtain medical goods and services. Examples of fraud include an individual receiving medical care using another’s information, doctors writing fraudulent prescriptions or having bills sent to another individual.
According to the 2013 Survey of Medical Identity Theft conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, about 1.8 million people in the U.S. are currently affected by medical identity theft.
The most serious effect of medical identity theft is having one person’s medical information inserted into the record for the individual being defrauded. According to the survey, people affected by the fraud have experienced misdiagnosis, mistreatment, a delay in treatment and prescriptions for the wrong drugs.
Harris recommended that health care providers implement a clear identity theft response system for investigating possible cases and allow patients who believe they may be victims of theft to review their medical records for accuracy.
Insurers also need to be involved in flagging suspicious claims and communicating with consumers about any possible errors.
There are also preventive measures for consumers. The Department of Justice’s recommendations include taking data breach notices from health care organizations seriously, contacting the insurance company if they send a bill for medical goods and services not requested or received, or talking to a billing supervisor for the doctor’s office if there is incorrect information in your record.
The Department of Justice’s “First Aid for Medical Identity Theft: Tips for Consumers” information sheet also contains sample letters for consumers to send to their health care providers or insurance company if they suspect that they are the victims of medical identity theft.