Hybrid cars. Low-VOC paint. Organic foods. By reducing toxins and pollutants, Americans are committed to a healthier environment. But one little-known contaminant endangering our health is medical identity theft, according to the 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theft conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA), with support from ID Experts.

Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses an individual’s name and personal identity to fraudulently receive medical services, prescription drugs and/or goods, including attempts to commit fraudulent billing. With victims paying $12.3 billion in out-of-pocket costs incurred by medical identity theft, this crime has become a national healthcare issue with life-threatening and financial consequences. It is tainting the healthcare ecosystem, much like poisoning the town’s water supply. Everyone will be affected.

However, unlike lead in the water supply or a hole in the ozone layer, the 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theftfinds that consumers are unaware of the seriousness and dangers of medical identity theft. In fact, they often share their medical identification with family members or friends, making medical identity theft a family affair. The result? Life-threatening consequences for an estimated 1.84 million victims in the U.S.

The 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theftreveals other disturbing trends:

  • Lack of confidence in healthcare providers. Fifty percent of victims lost trust and confidence in their healthcare provider, while 56 percent of consumers would find another provider if they knew their healthcare provider could not safeguard their medical records.
  • Medical identity theft can cause serious medical and financial consequences, yet consumers are unaware of the dangers. Half of consumers surveyed aren’t aware that medical identity theft can create permanent, life-threatening inaccuracies and permanent damage to their medical records. The medical identity victims surveyed experienced a misdiagnosis, mistreatment, delay in treatment, or were prescribed the wrong pharmaceuticals. Half of respondents are left with unresolved incidents.
  • Consumers don’t take action to protect their health information. Fifty percent of respondents don’t take steps to protect themselves from future medical identity theft. Fifty-six percent of consumers don’t check their health records and Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) from health insurers for inaccuracies because they either don’t know how or said it’s too difficult. Of those who found unfamiliar claims, 52 percent didn’t report them. Half thought the police would be of no help.
  • Consumers often share their medical identification with family members or friends, putting themselves at risk. Thirty percent of respondents knowingly permitted a family member to use their personal identification to obtain medical services including treatment, healthcare products, or pharmaceuticals. By sharing medical identification with family members or friends, consumers unintentionally leave themselves and their health records vulnerable. People do not know that they are committing fraud. More than 20 percent of people surveyed can’t remember how many times they shared their healthcare credentials. Forty-eight percent said they knew the thief and didn’t want to report him or her.

The Solution Is Us

Factors such as the Affordable Care Act and the increased use of electronic health records (EHRs) are fueling the size and complexity of medical identity theft. Healthcare organizations cannot solve the problem alone. It will take a united effort, such as the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, to research the problem, develop best practices, and empower individuals to be the first line of defense in protecting their PHI.

The complete 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theft is available at http://medidfraud.org/2013-survey-on-medical-identity-theft.