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Steps taken to stem health care identity theft

By Carolyn Pennington - September 7, 2005

Identity theft can be damaging to your health, and the Health Center is taking steps to prevent it, by requiring patients to show picture IDs before receiving care.

Stealing health insurance information to get free health care under someone else’s name can have a significant negative impact on both the individual and the healthcare institution.

It’s not just about a few free exams here and there. Some of the scams end up costing hospitals tens of thousands of dollars.

Public safety officers at the Health Center recently arrested a man after he racked up more than $76,000 in hospital charges, a bill the Health Center now has to foot.

Court records show that the suspect allegedly posed as his cousin, to get treatment for a terminal illness. He was arrested after he confessed to his doctor.

According to Neil Sullivan, director of public safety at the Health Center, this is not an isolated case.

“I think the same people who are out there misusing identity for other purposes aren’t going to hesitate to use it to get medical treatment,” Sullivan says.

For the victim of the crime, because of yearly and lifetime caps, it may ruin the chances of getting insurance coverage for everything from surgery to prescription drugs.

And it can be dangerous to the victim’s health.


“If the person who steals your health identity has allergies or specific medical conditions that collide with yours, for instance,” says Marie Whalen, assistant vice president for ambulatory services at the Health Center, “when you go in for care, you may experience a dangerous drug interaction or unknowingly be denied potentially lifesaving medications or treatments because they will assume the thief’s medical information is yours.”

To cut down on health insurance ID theft, the UConn Health Center now requires patients to show picture identification, for care both at the hospital and in doctors’ offices.

“We are taking a copy of that and putting it in the front of the medical record so when the patient comes for follow-up care, the providers can open the chart and see whether the person in front of them is in fact the patient,” says Whalen, who has been key in implementing the new requirements.

Sullivan says the new system of checking IDs is working. He says several patients have claimed they left their IDs in their cars and have left to retrieve them. But instead of coming back for services, they simply drove off.

With health insurance costs rising sharply, and the number of Americans without health insurance increasing, officials in the insurance industry aren’t surprised that medical identity theft is also surging.

The state insurance department offers tips for protecting yourself:

  • Never give out health insurance information over the phone.
  • If you lose your card, call your insurance company right away.
  • Keep your health insurance information private, even from family members.
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