The issue with nixing Affordable Care Act that no one’s talking about

‘Cure’ for health care system could result in new medical identity theft headaches

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Nev­er mind his crowd-favorite pledge to build the Great Wall of Mex­i­co with a “big, fat door,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cor­nu­copia of cam­paign promis­es includ­ed many a for­get­table vow. But you had to be whale-spot­ting from a lily pad on Loon Lake to miss the president’s pledge to repeal the Afford­able Care Act (ACA).

Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and CyberScout (formerly IDT911)
Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of Credit.com and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

What may not be as obvi­ous is the effect that such a move could have on crime—specifically med­ical iden­ti­ty theft.

Promis­es often are down­grad­ed to “ideas” post-vic­to­ry, but now that Can­di­date Trump is leader of the free world, it’s time to revis­it this major pledge. One of the first things our new pres­i­dent did Fri­day was sign an exec­u­tive order urg­ing his admin­is­tra­tion to fight the ACA.

The exec­u­tive order has no teeth. It sim­ply states the Trump administration’s posi­tion, and, sure, that car­ries with it all the heft brought to bear by the Oval Office. But what is wor­ri­some for pro­po­nents of the ACA is that the exec­u­tive order fol­lows cur­rent leg­isla­tive efforts in Con­gress to oblit­er­ate the cen­ter­piece of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s lega­cy. With a new­ly installed major­i­ty, Repub­li­cans are poised to dis­man­tle the his­toric law that helped 20 mil­lion unin­sured Amer­i­cans get afford­able health care. Most recent­ly, in a 227–198 vote, mem­bers of the House approved a bud­get that would kill major pro­vi­sions of the ACA.

This is a crit­i­cal first step toward deliv­er­ing relief to Amer­i­cans who are strug­gling under this law,” House Speak­er Paul Ryan said last week.

It’s hard to say exact­ly how many Amer­i­cans would lose their health insur­ance should Oba­macare go away, since Repub­li­cans have yet to out­line a plan to replace it. How­ev­er, a recent study from the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office found a straight-up repeal would leave about 18 mil­lion peo­ple unin­sured the fol­low­ing year.

It goes with­out say­ing the major­i­ty of those affect­ed will not resort to a life of crime in order to acquire health care. In fact, it is unlike­ly, but should Con­gress, in con­cert with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, repeal the ACA with­out pro­vid­ing a viable alter­na­tive, the sheer num­ber of unin­sured peo­ple will cre­ate a moral hazard—crimes will become a pos­si­bil­i­ty where they would not have been—and this can only result in an uptick in the med­ical iden­ti­ty theft numbers.

What is med­ical iden­ti­ty theft?

As I explain in my book, Swiped: How to Pro­tect Your­self in a World Full of Scam­mers, Phish­ers and Iden­ti­ty Thieves, med­ical iden­ti­ty theft is wide­spread, and poten­tial­ly deadly.

While there is a long and sor­did his­to­ry of orga­nized crime run­ning health care-relat­ed scams where­by crooked doc­tors and gar­den-vari­ety crooks team up to defraud insur­ers or get pre­scrip­tions for con­trolled sub­stances that are then sold for recre­ation­al use, the theft of one person’s health care by anoth­er is a very real thing, and it can be life threatening.

Your med­ical records pro­vide infor­ma­tion that can be used in a vari­ety of ways. For instance, once a crim­i­nal has your per­son­al infor­ma­tion and insur­ance details, he or she can use it, or enable anoth­er per­son to use it, to gain access to the health care sys­tem in your name. The result could be the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of your med­ical records with his or her co-min­gled information.

Noth­ing is more dan­ger­ous than going to a hos­pi­tal and hav­ing “your” med­ical records, as used by an iden­ti­ty thief or his/her “cus­tomer,” reflect an inac­cu­rate blood type, med­ical his­to­ry, or the exis­tence or absence of cer­tain aller­gies when you are receiv­ing med­ical care, par­tic­u­lar­ly in an emer­gency situation.

Anoth­er result of med­ical iden­ti­ty theft can be denial of ser­vice. If an impos­tor uses your insur­ance to gain access to health care, it can affect your own abil­i­ty to access care. Many insur­ance plans have annu­al caps on cer­tain types of pro­ce­dures and treatments—and, obvi­ous­ly, no insur­ance com­pa­ny is going to pay for one per­son to have an appen­dec­to­my twice. An iden­ti­ty thief with access to your insur­ance could drain your cov­er­age before you even know it’s hap­pened and leave you in the lurch when you need it.

How to pre­vent med­ical iden­ti­ty theft

There are ways to defend against med­ical iden­ti­ty theft. Most involve proac­tive mon­i­tor­ing of your med­ical files. Many larg­er med­ical providers per­mit you to review your med­ical records by way of a secure web­site. If your doc­tor doesn’t offer such a ser­vice, you should sit with him, her or their staff at least once per year and review your files to con­firm their accu­ra­cy. In addi­tion, you should intent­ly review any cor­re­spon­dence you receive from your health insur­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly Expla­na­tion of Ben­e­fits notices, which will be the most imme­di­ate way to dis­cov­er theft of services.

You also should review your cred­it reports at least once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure that all infor­ma­tion is accu­rate. If you notice any­thing involv­ing med­ical debt or a col­lec­tion relat­ing to a med­ical bill that is news to you, con­firm its accu­ra­cy and that it’s not an indi­ca­tion you are a vic­tim of med­ical iden­ti­ty theft.

You also might wish to keep track of your cred­it scores. Any sud­den, unex­plained drop could indi­cate a prob­lem, and that issue might stem from med­ical iden­ti­ty theft. (You can view two of your free cred­it scores, updat­ed every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

As for threats to the ACA, noth­ing has hap­pened … yet. Law­mak­ers are still try­ing to fig­ure out how to approach their stat­ed goal of repeal­ing Oba­macare, and it won’t be easy. If you have con­cerns, you can call Speak­er Ryan and oth­er law­mak­ers who have vowed to do away with the ACA. As for the stat­ed goal of repeal­ing the ACA: An ounce of cau­tion may be worth a pound of cure.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to Credit.com and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its partners.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?