Protecting Your Family’s Medical Information
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Health information is valuable. Now that medical records are being kept electronically, they can more easily be misappropriated. Health care providers and insurers have been hacked, creating worries about privacy as well financial vulnerability.
Medical companies that obtain access to health information may bombard you or your child with advertising for treatments that you don’t want or need. A thief who gets access to insurance information can ruin your credit and max out your benefits. Protecting your family from these problems requires vigilance. Get into the habit of following these rules:
Study statements. Check provider names, dates of service and the type of service provided. If you see a mistake, report the problem as soon as possible.
Check EOBs. An Explanation of Benefits from your insurance company usually says “This is not a bill” at the top. That’s not a reason to ignore it. Match EOB’s to statements from medical providers. If there are any discrepancies, contact your insurance company immediately. An inaccurate EOB may be your first indicator that someone else is using your insurance information.
Sign up for online accounts. Many doctors and pharmacies provide patients with password-protected access to personal medical files. Not only is this an easy way to check the accuracy of records, but it also keeps anyone else from setting up an account under your name.
Correct misinformation. Fraudulent medical claims can introduce inaccurate information into medical records. If you become aware of errors in your medical files, ask that they be corrected. Follow up with any other providers who may have received the information to be their sure records are accurate, too.
Set up personal health records. Having your own records makes it easier if you need to change health care providers. MyPHR.com has an extensive list of record-keeping apps and programs as well as paper forms that can be downloaded. Because genetic history is likely to become more important in your child’s lifetime, consider using the same file to record medical conditions of ancestors and other family members.
Keep records safe. Use a password to protect health records stored online. Store paper records in a safe place — a locked filing cabinet is ideal. Shred outdated health insurance forms, prescription receipts, physician statements and even labels from prescription bottles.
Guard your numbers. Treat your insurance card as carefully as your credit card. Avoid putting social security numbers on health information forms. Numbers for children are especially desirable to thieves because you may not detect a problem until the child applies for a driver’s license. If forms from medical providers or for that matter schools or sports teams ask for social security numbers, leave the space blank. Don’t share medical or insurance information on the phone unless you initiated the contact. Don’t provide it in response to an email.
Be smart online. Thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, medical providers must take privacy seriously. Those rules don’t apply to social media, message boards or, for that matter, companies that sell wearable medical devices. Think carefully about sharing health information online.
If, despite all these precautions, you suspect someone has stolen the medical identity of a family member, act swiftly, following the steps outlined at identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away. You can also request an Accounting of Disclosures, a record that details when, what, who and why your medical information was shared by your provider.
Even if you don’t suspect medical fraud, you may want to request a disclosure report as well as a reports from the three major credit agencies (annualcreditreport.com). By law, you are entitled to a free copy of each of these reports each year, and you may sleep better at night if you know they’ve given your family a clean bill of health.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. In 2016, she will publish “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart.”