Vicki Lee Blair, a 63-year-old former computer analyst from Westminster, Calif., had the surprise of her life. Blair went to a clinic seeking antidepressant medication. She said she was shocked when clinicians bombarded her with questions about a blood test in her file indicating thyroid problems and illegal drug use.
She insisted the records were inaccurate, potentially the result of an identity theft that occurred a year earlier. And like most victims, her response was, “I never thought this could happen to me.”
Unfortunately, statistics show that it is likely to happen to Vicki, as well as many others.
Medical identity theft affects an estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. at a cost of $41.3 billion, according to the Ponemon Institute, a research center focused on privacy and data security. The crime has grown as health care costs have swelled and job cuts have left people without employer-subsidized insurance.
A child-protection services worker recently accused a woman of giving birth to a child that had tested positive for methamphetamine, although she hadn’t given birth in more than two years. After investigating the phone call, the Salt Lake City mother of four realized she had been the victim of medical identity theft. Turns out a pregnant woman strung out on drugs gave birth using her name and her medical insurance to pay for it. The victim was now in danger of losing her children.
But convincing medical investigators that she hadn’t given birth wasn’t easy. “I said I had not recently had a baby, that my youngest was 2 years old,” the victim explained. “I said, ‘Come meet me and you’ll know that I didn’t just have a baby.’ ” Investigators still made her life a living hell, she said, questioning her employers and interrogating her children.
Individuals are not the only ones impacted by medical identity theft. The collateral damage can also be felt in the workplace, where the result is often significant increases when it comes renewal time, both in employer premiums and employee contributions. And very often hospitals are in no hurry to help the recovery process as they have, in most cases, already been paid their premiums. To many victims, this feels like a clear-cut case of not being accountable to a problem that may have arisen from a hospital or medical facility having their data either physically stolen or cyber-stolen.