CEO Healthcare Column

CEO Mary Ellen Pratt is extremely knowledgeable about the issues facing healthcare today. Visit this page monthly to keep up with her popular healthcare column which is featured in local newspapers. 

ARE YOU AWARE OF MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT?  
There is much talk about identity theft and how to safeguard your financial information, but did you know that thieves can steal your medical identity too?

What is Medical Identity Theft? 
Medical Identity Theft is when a thief uses your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance, payment records and credit report may be affected. A report released by the Medical Identity Theft Alliance reveals that the frequency of medical identity theft rose 20% between fiscal year 2014 and the previous year.

How can you protect yourself against Medical Identity Theft? 
You can protect yourself against Medical Identity Theft by protecting your medical information, being aware of inconsistencies in your medical bills/insurance information and insisting providers verify your insurance. 

Protect Your Personal Information 
1. Be wary of giving out your plan ID number or other facts to someone you don’t know.  If someone offers you “free” health services or products, but requires you to provide your health plan details, be alerted.  Medical identity thieves may pretend to work for an insurance company, doctors’ offices, clinic or pharmacy to try to trick you into revealing sensitive information.

2. Don’t share medical or insurance information by phone or email unless you initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.

3. Keep paper and electronic copies of your medical and health insurance records in a safe place. Shred outdated health insurance forms, prescription and physician statements and the labels from prescription bottles before you discard them.

4. If a website asks for your Social Security number, insurance account numbers or details about your health, find out why this is needed, how it will be kept safe and whether it will be shared (and with whom). Read the Privacy Policy on the website. If you decide to share your information online, look for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins with “https:” The “s” stands for for secure.

Check for Inconsistencies in Your Billing Information 
1. Review your medical and insurance statements regularly and completely. They can show warning signs of identity theft. Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) Statement or Medicare Summary Notice that your health plan sends after treatment. Check the name of the provider, the date of service and the service provided to make sure the claims paid match the care you received. Did you see a doctor on the date listed? If you see a mistake, contact your health plan and report the problem.

2. Question your insurance carrier if you get a call from a debt collector about a medical debt you don’t owe, medical collection notices on your credit report that you don’t recognize, a notice from your health plan saying you reached your benefit limit or a denial of insurance because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.

Make Sure Healthcare Providers Do Their Part
Finally, make sure your healthcare provider is checking your insurance card to validate your identity.  Just as retail establishments check ID’s when accepting credit cards, healthcare providers should make sure the patient has a valid insurance card and matching identification.  

At St. James Parish Hospital, we make it a routine practice to verify insurance—not be redundant—but to protect our patients’ medical identity.  It might take an extra minute or two, but your safety and privacy are worth it to us.