Compassion is a wonderful thing, and if you want to help someone who doesn’t have medical insurance and needs healthcare, you can donate to a medical charity, help them sign up for Affordable Care Act coverage, or lend them money to help with the bill. What you should never do is lend them your medical ID card and let them use your insurance. Medical identity theft, even self-inflicted, can risk your future and even your life.
No matter how much you want to help, here are four good reasons not to lend someone your medical insurance card:
- It’s illegal. Letting someone pretend to be you and use your insurance is insurance fraud, and that is a crime. If the fraud is discovered, you could be prosecuted, and you could lose your medical coverage, have to pay hefty fines, or even go to jail.
- It could use up your medical benefits. Most insurance policies have yearly and lifetime limits. If you lend your card to someone who turns out to have a major medical problem, they could exceed your limits. (And are they going to confess this deception while being rushed into surgery?) Even if they have lower cost treatments, if you have a major medical issue later, the other person’s treatment costs can help push you over your limits.
- It could risk your life! When someone gets treatment in your name, their medical information goes into your medical files. Even if they go to a different doctor, many health systems now have integrated medical record systems. For example, if you go to an urgent care clinic, they can often pull up reports from other doctors or medical labs within the same network. So if you go to the emergency room with abdominal pain and your medical record says you already had your gall bladder removed because the person who used your card did have their gall bladder out, you might not receive treatment that could save your life.
- It’s really hard to fix. Once your medical record contains someone else’s information, it’s difficult to get it clean again. Once your healthcare provider is alerted that someone else’s medical information is there, they are required by medical privacy laws to keep that information confidential from other people, including you. So you won’t get to just review the record and say which information is yours and which isn’t.
Most people who share their medical ID cards do so with the best intentions, but there are right ways to help and wrong ways to help. A lot of people think that lending their insurance is a victimless crime, but it isn’t, and the victim is likely to be you.