More than 2 million Americans were victims of medical identity theft in 2014, a 22 percent increase from the previous year, contributing to a gradual upward trend over the past five years, according to a study published by the Medicare Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA).
The "Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft," conducted by the Ponemon Institute LLC, found that medical identify theft is more costly, more complicated and often more time-consuming to resolve compared to credit card fraud. Furthermore, consumers expect providers to be proactive in preventing and detecting identity theft. Nearly half of respondents said they would consider changing providers if their health records were stolen and 40 percent expect prompt notification of a potential breach.
"2015 will be a year of increased attention to the pervasiveness and damaging effects of medical identity theft," Ann Patterson, senior vice president and program director at MIFA, said in an announcement. "As we've already seen this year, the healthcare industry is and will continue to be a major target for hackers. Stolen personal information can be used for identity theft, including medical identity theft and the impact to victims can be life-threatening."
Following the Anthem hack, Patterson spoke with FierceHealthPayer: AntiFraud in an exclusive interview and explained how the Anthem breach could open up multiple avenues of healthcare fraud.
Victims of medical identity theft pay an average of $13,500 in out-of-pocket costs to resolve the crime. Frequently, this information was used to obtain medical services or treatments (59 percent), obtain prescription drugs (56 percent), or receive Medicare and Medicaid benefits (52 percent). Only 14 percent of respondents said the thief used the information to obtain fraudulent credit accounts, indicating that medical information is a much more profitable market.
Medical identity theft has been a growing concern for the healthcare sector because of the prevalence of electronic health records, a growing black-market demand for medical information and a fragmented healthcare system. Experts have offered ways that both organizations and consumers can limit medical identity theft by identifying red flags and using algorithms to improve post-payment detection of fraud or theft.