Monday, October 27, 2008

Medical Identity Theft

With identity theft on the rise these days, most of us are already taking steps to protect ourselves. But did you know that there's now a growing form of identity theft known as "medical identity theft" that can not only devastate victims' finances, but also compromise their health, too. According to Joy Pritts, JD, author of Your Medical Record Rights, here's what you need to know.

What is Medical Identity Theft? Medical identity theft occurs when criminals access victims' medical records. Since medical records contain a person's social security number and credit card information (if bills have been paid via credit card), criminals can open accounts and make fraudulent charges. However, criminals also gain access to victims' health insurance policy information and medical histories, and they can create forged health insurance cards to sell to people who are uninsured and need expensive medical treatment. A person who buys a fake health insurance ID card would then seek treatment using the victim's name and policy number, and then disappear, leaving the victim with the bills to pay.

Why Should You Be Concerned? Victims of medical identity theft not only have to repair their credit and convince credit agencies and service providers that bills are fraudulent, they also have to correct inaccurate medical information that becomes part of their health records. Victims could be denied life insurance or individual health insurance if their record shows treatments that they did not have. In addition, victims could receive treatments or medicines that could be harmful to them on the basis of inaccurate content in their medical records.

Steps to Take if You Suspect a Medical Identity Theft
1. Read all bills and "Explanation of Benefits" statements from your insurance company to verify they are for treatment you received.
2. If a bill or statement refers to treatment you did not receive, contact the employee in charge of investigating fraud at your insurance company and at the medical facility involved and explain the situation. Follow up with a letter sent via registered mail with return receipt once again explaining the situation, asking for any bills to be voided, and asking that your medical record be amended to state that you did not have this health problem or receive this treatment.
3. Report the identity theft to the police department and state's attorney general's office.
4. Contact the health care providers you use, explain the situation, ask if the erroneous information has been added to the providers' records, and if so, ask them to correct the records.
5. Report the fraud to the major credit bureaus and set up fraud alerts. Also, request free copies of your credit reports to make sure no new fraudulent accounts have been opened. * 6. Review your medical records every few years to make sure there are no errors.

To learn more about your medical record rights, visit

Turning Back the Hands of Time

The sun is about to set on another season of Daylight Saving Time. In case you hadn't noticed, Daylight Saving Time (DST) began earlier last spring and ran longer into this fall. But, alas, all good things must come to an end...and this year Daylight Saving Time ends Sunday, November 2nd.

The extra month that we enjoyed was actually the result of the Energy Policy Act, which was enacted by Congress back in 2005 and first went into effect last year. Originally, the bill was written to extend Daylight Saving by two months, but some very verbal opponents fought the change. Farmers say that DST has a negative impact on their livestock in general--as it is tough for them to adapt to the time change, and they consequently produce less milk, eggs, etc. Because DST is not followed uniformly around the world, airlines claim that it might mean many missed international flight connections. Additionally, TV and Cable stations argued that they would lose viewers and advertising revenue, simply due to less time spent in front of the television because of more time spent outdoors in daylight.

So a compromise of one additional month of DST was reached. However, Congress did retain the right to revert back to the old dates if the change proves to be widely unpopular, or if the energy savings aren't significant.

Why is Daylight Saving Time Longer?
Despite the concerns listed above, Americans overwhelmingly like Daylight Saving Time. There is simply more sunlight in the evenings to enjoy the outdoors and get things done. Additionally, there may be emotional benefits, as we typically feel better with more daylight.
Plus, additional hours of daylight can help save energy on a national scale. Less electricity is needed, as fewer lights are turned on as early in the evening...and with energy costs so high, even a small amount of savings is very welcome.

And brighter is safer - studies have shown that the DST shift reduces traffic accidents. An increase in accidents in the dark mornings is more than offset by the evening decrease in accidents, due to the increased visibility gained with more sunlight. Halloween is also arguably safer. Child pedestrian deaths are four times higher on Halloween than any other night of the year. By extending Daylight Saving Time, however, trick-or-treaters are able to spend an extra hour gathering treats while it's still light out. Candy manufacturers are happy too, as they've lobbied for years to have DST extended through Halloween.

A study by the US Law Enforcement Admin also determined that crime is consistently lower during DST, with violent crimes down as much as 10% to 13%. For many crimes, like mugging, darkness is a factor--so more light in the evening hours reduces these types of crimes.
Falling Back... Manually

Since DST has been extended, you'll want to double-check all of your electronic devices and confirm that the time is correct. Although you may be accustomed to your computer and maybe even your digital clock in your car automatically updating, the recent change of dates for Daylight Saving Time may require that these devices be manually changed, as they now may NOT be ready to update to the correct time on the correct date!

So keep an eye on your electronic devices and remember to change your clocks on Sunday, November 2nd as we turn back the hands of time once again!