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Identity Theft on the Rise in Local ER

It’s been said that during difficult times, good people will do bad things. One local hospital says it’s seeing examples of that on a regular basis now in its emergency department. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has details.

Reporter standup: “Right now, I’m standing in the main doors of the Emergency Room at CoxSouth in Springfield. Folks are coming in to seek X-Rays and other treatment. Officials say they have seen a spike in identity theft here in the emergency room—a trend which they attribute to the economy.”

[Sound of footsteps, door opening and closing.]

From the ER, I head over to the hospital’s Department of Corporate Integrity, which educates staff on health care rules and regulations, and monitors the hospital to make sure everyone’s behaving themselves.

Inside, I find Betty Breshears, vice president of the department. She’s been keeping a close eye on the problem of identity theft in the ER. The presumption is that some folks are trying to use someone else’s insurance to fit the bill.

“For instance over the last 12 months, we’ve had a total of nine instances of identity theft. Four of those have been within the last 45 days,” she says.

She says the hospital is trying to stay several steps ahead of the identity thieves.

“That’s something that we’re trying to be very, very proactive at, because we recognize the risk if we get the wrong medical information and the wrong person’s chart. That creates a huge risk, we think, for our patients. And so, it’s very important for us to catch those,” she says.

ER staff members, she says, are on the lookout for so-called "red flags" of identity theft. They know what types of Social Security numbers haven’t been issued yet, and they have been told to scrutinize the patient’s photo ID.

Among other things, she says the hospital is also asking patients to verbally explain their health situation, which is hard for a person to do if they're using someone else's ID.

So far, the hospital’s public safety department has taken the lead in determining whether identity theft has occurred.

Breshears said if people walk through the ER doors sick, the hospital has always, and will continue to treat them first, and then follow up on payment, and these days, identity theft as well.

Missouri currently has the highest unemployment rate it’s had in 25 years, and according to the US Census Bureau, 739,000 Missourians were without health insurance last fall.

Missouri also has one of the lowest thresholds for Medicaid eligibility in the nation.

Currently, Springfield’s only free medical clinic is operated by The Kitchen. That clinic had to turn away 2,488 people last year—that’s an average of seven people per day.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.