The Next Problem for Workers' Comp: Medical ID Theft

The resulting confusion can hurt employees and raise costs for employers.

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Medical identity theft occurs when a thief obtains treatment using the victim’s Social Security number or health insurance identification number. Authorities also report arrests of care providers who have stolen medical identities and submitted bills for treatment they never performed.  Cyber-attacks on medical data have produced a market for this kind of information. A theft victim’s biggest risk is improper medical treatment because a provider relies on an incorrect medical history. The victim could end up with a transfusion of the wrong blood type, an incorrect prescription or ineffective treatment tailored to the wrong facts. If inappropriate treatment of an industrial injury results in the need for further medical care, the additional care will also be an industrial treatment expense. Injured workers may not know their medical identity was stolen until their treatment request is denied. When medical records show non-industrial causation of the subject condition, a carrier may deny treatment. Records might also show a prior industrial claim for the condition now under review. If the injured worker denies such prior treatment, medical identity theft could be the cause of the discrepancy. When an injured worker claims medical identity theft is the reason for a record of prior treatment, record reviewers should pay close attention to notes of contact information for the patient and family members, height, weight, age and other telltale features which could confirm or weaken a claim of medical identity theft. Employers facing a claim of medical identity theft will have to use a rule of reason and tread carefully. As with other denials, once the injured worker starts treating non-industrially, the employer loses control of the treatment and may end up paying much more than if the condition had been treated within the medical provider network. When the injured worker sustained a prior disabling injury, the percentage of disability payable on the current claim will be apportioned. But what if that prior injury was to someone else using the current claimant’s identity? Parties will need evidence about the prior injury and treatment including the injured worker’s actual location and activities on the relevant dates. Given the market penetration of some medical providers (such as Express Scripts), a claim could trigger issues relating to bills incurred for stolen treatment. CMS might respond to a submission for MSA approval with a reimbursement request for treatment provided to the thief. The identity theft victim will bear the burden of cleaning up the medical record history, including notification to care providers, credit agencies and possibly law-enforcement officials. This task is another source of stress at what is already a stressful time for an injured worker.The employer needs a complete medical history relating to the industrial injury and usually obtains the relevant records by subpoena. Once the theft is discovered, new privacy issues may arise in obtaining those records. Sometimes an undocumented worker avoids detection until there is an industrial injury. Medical treatment planning can disclose a medical history at odds with the known facts of the injured worker’s life. In California, the injured worker will be entitled to treatment of the industrial injury. As with the identity theft victim, disentangling the two medical histories can complicate the treatment plan.


Teddy Snyder

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Teddy Snyder

Teddy Snyder mediates workers' compensation cases throughout California through <a href="http://www.wcmediator.com/">WCMediator.com</a&gt;. An attorney since 1977, she has concentrated on claim settlement for more than 19 years. Her motto is, "Stop fooling around and just settle the case."

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