​Medical identity theft a rising concern – report

Reuters/Nir Elias
Millions of Americans have been victims of medical identity theft, and the risk is only rising, a newly released study indicates. Such fraud is much more costly than standard identity theft – and could have long-term and potentially lethal consequences.

According to the fifth annual study conducted by the Ponemon Institute, a Michigan-based research center, medical identity theft rose sharply in 2014, with almost half a million reported incidents. The study was commissioned by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, and was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, ID Experts Corporation, Experian Data Breach Resolution and Identity Finder, LLC.

The compromising of healthcare records often results in costly billing disputes. However, it could also lead to misdiagnosis, delays in treatment, wrong treatment or the wrong drugs being prescribed.

In addition, the thieves’ preference for Social Security numbers and income data over easily corrected credit card records spells identity theft trouble in the longer term.

The study found that healthcare providers and insurers rarely informed victims about such theft. Only 10 percent of the respondents managed to successfully resolve the problem, at a great expense of money and time. The study suggests that 65 percent of medical identity theft victims had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime.

Fifty-five percent of the respondents are convinced the Affordable Care Act – US President Barack Obama’s hallmark healthcare legislation – has increased their chances of becoming a victim of medical identity theft. Twelve percent of the respondents mistakenly shared their medical information via fake emails or spoof websites in 2014.

“The ACA has both individuals and healthcare organizations worried about insecure websites, databases and health information exchanges that are vulnerable to insider and outsider threats,” says the study. “Government’s increased influence and involvement in the delivery of healthcare services…requires it to become more proactive in addressing medical identity theft.”

READ MORE: ‘Tens of millions’ of records stolen in hack attack on health insurer Anthem

Earlier this month, a database breach at Anthem affected “tens of millions” of people, with up to 80 million patient records potentially at risk. Anthem is a major component of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield association. It was the largest healthcare breach in US history.