Column – Take steps to prevent medical identity theft
Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Part four in six-part series
Medical identity theft is a serious business. Each year, about 1.5 million adults are victims of medical identity theft, according to one study.
Medical ID theft occurs when someone steals personal information, such as your name and Medicare number, and uses the information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs or medications, surgery and/or other services and then bills Medicare for it.
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A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file phony claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, or credit report may be affected.
If you see signs of medical identity theft, order copies of your health/medical records and check for mistakes. You have the right to correct them.
This theft can cause financial harm, but it is about more than just losing time and money. Sometimes people are denied Medicare coverage for a service or medical equipment because their records falsely show they already received it, when in fact it went to someone posing as them.
Here are warning signs your identity may have been stolen:
- You get a bill for medical services you did not receive.
- You are contacted by a debt collection company for money you do not owe.
- Your insurance company says you’ve reached your limit on medical benefits.
- You are denied insurance for a medical condition you do not have.
Some tips for avoiding medical ID theft include:
- Protect your Medicare and other health insurance cards in the same way you protect a credit card.
- Review Medicare summary notices, explanations of benefits statements and medical bills for suspicious charges. If you find incorrect information, insist it be corrected or removed.
- Only give personal information to Medicare-approved doctors, other healthcare providers and suppliers, your state health insurance assistance program or Senior Medicare Patrol program, or the Social Security Administration. Call 1-800-633-4227 if you aren’t sure if a provider is approved by Medicare.
- Beware of offers of free medical equipment, services or goods in exchange for your Medicare number.
- Shred papers with your medical identity before putting them in the trash.
- Remove or destroy labels on prescription bottles and packages before you put them in the trash.
To protect yourself from Medicare errors, fraud and abuse, detect potential errors, and report your concerns, contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol or go to smpresource.org.
Oscar Alvarez of Pathway Financial Planning Inc. talked about the importance of power of attorney — a legal document that allows someone to manage your property or belongings.
A power of attorney gives someone else legal authority to make decisions about money or property. That person, called the agent, can make decisions if the older adult is sick or injured or incapacitated.
A durable power of attorney is a very important tool in planning for financial incapacity due to Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, or other health problems. It is advisable to consult with an attorney when preparing a power of attorney, a trust or any legal document giving someone else authority over your finances.
POAs vary, depending on what your state law allows and the wording in the document. Generally, a POA goes into effect as soon as it is signed, unless the document specifies a different arrangement. That means that even if you are capable of making decisions, your representative or agent can immediately act on your behalf.
Here are some safeguards to minimize the risk of POA abuse:
- Trust but verify.
- Avoid appointing anyone who mismanages money or has personal issues.
- Tell trusted professionals about POA, including your financial institution so they can look out for misuse.
- If needed, change, cancel or revoke the POA.
- Avoid appointing hired caregivers/helpers.
- Beware of new “best friends” who offer to handle your finances.
Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.