Personal Finance

Medical identity theft costs the average American $13,500. How to avoid it

A Quest Diagnostics Inc. requisition form is displayed for a photograph at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Medical identity theft like the recent breach involving nearly 12 million Quest Diagnostics patients can cost you lots of money.

In 2018, there were 87,765 cases of medical and insurance-related identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That represents more than a quarter of all reported identity-theft cases.

One 2015 study found the medical identity theft cost the average victim $13,500 to fix.

“Medical identity theft can be even more damaging than standard identity theft,” said Sterling Price, health-care analyst at ValuePenguin, a financial website. “Criminals use your information to purchase costly medical services, which can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in damages and often take years to fix completely.”

Quest, one of the nation’s largest clinical laboratories, announced earlier this month that an unauthorized user gained access to the personal information — including Social Security numbers and financial data — of nearly 12 million patients.

Quest said it will be notifying people who were affected.

There are steps everyone can take to make sure tasks such as picking up prescriptions or corresponding with your health insurer don’t leave you at risk for identity theft.

Here are some steps to keep yourself safe

Request access to your medical records. Just as you should regularly order a credit report to look for errors, your medical records can also reveal red flags and should be reviewed periodically.

It’s your right under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to request copies of your health information. You should receive the record within 30 days.

Your doctor’s office may have a patient portal through which you can see your record. If they don’t, you can simply request the information from the office directly. You may be charged a small fee.

Report any irregularities. If you notice anything suspicious in your records, call your health insurer as soon as possible and ask to speak with the fraud department. You might want to be issued a new health insurance account and card.

Ask about how you can go about fixing any billing or medical record issues.

And be sure to file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.

Don’t give out unnecessary information. Allowing your doctor’s office to photocopy your driver’s license or credit card is not a smart move and often isn’t even required to receive services.

If you’re asked by the front desk to provide anything other than your insurance card, ask why it’s needed and how the office plans on protecting your information.

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