Healthcare News & Insights

Lawmakers: HHS should do more to prevent medical identity theft

Medical identity theft is a serious problem affecting both providers and patients, as more cyber criminals try to steal clinical and insurance data to buy prescription drugs, file false insurance claims and commit other crimes. 

And according to two Republican lawmakers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should be taking more steps to prevent medical identity theft.

Representatives Wally Herger (R-Calif.) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas), both members of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently issued a statement urging HHS to take to heart the growing threat of medical identity theft, particularly incidents targeting Medicare recipients.

The two lawmakers cited a recent report from the HHS Office of Inspector General which included the details of 14 data breaches affecting 13,775 Medicare beneficiaries. Herger and Johnson say the report should provide a wake-up for HHS to take new steps to prevent medical identity theft targeting those victims, including:

  1. Improve data breach notification — According to Herger and Johnson, in half the breaches cited, HHS did not notify affected individuals within 60 days. Early notification makes it possible for potential victims to look for the signs of medical identity theft and prevent significant damage from occurring.
  2. Remove Social Security numbers from Medicare ID cards — Seniors are often urged not to carry their Social Security cards with them to avoid their SSNs from being stolen. However, Herger and Johnson point out, they must carry their Medicare cards with them in case they need medical care, and those cards contain the holder’s SSN.
  3. Improve database of compromised Medicare numbers — The HHS maintains a database of Medicare numbers that have been compromised, to prevent those affected by medical identity theft from being hit with further losses. However, the report found that contractors often don’t know how to use the database and don’t report usability problems to HHS.

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