Thursday, August 13, 2015

How an Identity Theft Sticks You With Hospital Bills | Thieves use stolen personal data to get treatment, drugs, medical equipment

This is a truly chilling story of the myriad of problems that arise when a theif steals your medical records from Stephanie Amour at the Wall Street Journal:
Kathleen Meiners was puzzled when a note arrived last year thanking her son Bill for visiting Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, Mo. Soon, bills arrived from the hospital for a leg-injury treatment. 
But her son had never been there. 
Someone had stolen Bill Meiners’s Social Security and medical-identification numbers, using them to get care in his name. If he had been injured, she would have known: Mr. Meiners, a 39-year-old convenience-store worker with Down syndrome, lives with his parents in south Kansas City. 
To clear things up, Mrs. Meiners, who turns 74 on Saturday, took him to the hospital to show he was fine. It didn’t work: She says she spent months fighting collection notices and trying to fix his medical records. 
In a twist on identity theft, crooks are using personal data stolen from millions of Americans to get health care, prescriptions and medical equipment.  
Victims sometimes only find out when they get a bill or a call from a debt collector. They can wind up with the thief’s health data folded into their own medical charts. A patient’s record may show she has diabetes when she doesn’t, say, or list a blood type that isn’t hers—errors that can lead to dangerous diagnoses or treatments. 
Adding insult to injury, a victim often can’t fully examine his own records because the thief’s health data, now folded into his, are protected by medical-privacy laws. And hospitals sometimes continue to hound victims for payments they didn’t incur. ... 
And the medical establishment often doesn't make it easy to clean up the mess, as Mrs. Meiners found out. 
She began early last year with a call to the Centerpoint medical center, which she says promised to clear the fraudulently billed January 2014 leg-injury treatment. But in November, the center’s radiologists turned her son’s case over to collections, seeking $25. This year, the emergency-room physicians sent a bill for $462. And the hospital, she says, wanted her to pay a bill of about $300. 
Another concern for Mrs. Meiners was that the thief’s medical information got into her son’s health records, including a drug allergy her son didn’t have. She contacted her son’s insurer, which told her it removed the false information. 
She says Centerpoint told her that medical-privacy laws prevent her from looking at everything in her son’s medical record because it contained the thief’s health information. Federal medical-privacy laws bar a person’s access to someone else’s data, even if the information is in their own files, medical experts say. ... 
Unlike in financial identity theft, health identity-theft victims can remain on the hook for payment because there is no health-care equivalent of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which limits consumers’ monetary losses if someone uses their credit information. ... 
[A recent] survey found 65% of victims reported they spent an average of $13,500 to restore credit, pay health-care providers for fraudulent claims and correct inaccuracies in their health records. ... 
Thieves use many ways to acquire numbers for Social Security, private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Some are stolen in data breaches and sold on the black market. Such data are especially valuable, sometimes selling for about $50 compared with $6 or $7 for a credit-card number, law-enforcement officials estimate. A big reason is that medical-identification information can’t be quickly canceled like credit cards. 
An undocumented immigrant, Amira Avendano-Hernandez, of Clinton, Wis., was sentenced in 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin to six months in prison and restitution of more than $200,000 after she got medical treatment, including a liver transplant, using someone else’s name. She had bought a stolen Social Security number from a third party, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the district. ...
Read the full story here.