I am going to share the following experience to make a point.
On February 8, I went for my appointment with a neurosurgeon whom I hadn’t seen before. The receptionist handed me a form that asked for, among other things, my SS#* and Peggy’s SS#. When I refused to give these due to concerns about identity theft, the receptionist said that she needed them in order to bill insurance. I knew that this wasn’t true, so I refused to give them a second time. She then said I would have to pay for the entire doctor’s visit before I left, and that she would then bill insurance and reimburse me when payment was received. This contradicted what she had just said, but I saw no point in arguing with someone who wasn’t in a position of power, so I agreed to make the payment, and sat back down.
When a half hour passed, and I still hadn’t been called by the nurse, I went back to the receptionist and asked to speak to the practice manager about the SS# requirement. As I was making this request, my name was called, so Peggy and I left the front desk and were shown into an examining room.
After several minutes, a woman who introduced herself as Heidi came in. Heidi was the kind of person who just naturally inspired trust, and this made her well qualified for the lies she was about to tell. She said that both my insurance administrator (HMA) and the federal government required that I provide mine and Peggy’s SS#s. I told Heidi that I had a number of doctors and none of them had these numbers. She said that her office’s contract with HMA stipulated that it obtain them for payment purposes.
Heidi also said that I could still see the doctor if I paid for the visit in full, and that she would bill HMA, and reimburse me when she received payment, although she doubted that HMA would make payment unless I provided our SS#s. When I said that I had already agreed to pay after I saw the doctor, Heidi said that the doctor wouldn’t see me unless I paid first, so Peggy went back to the front desk and did so. When the doctor came in, I took the matter up with her, and she said that patients who decline to provide all requested information always leave without paying.
When I got home, I checked with both the federal government and HMA to verify that neither of them required that I provide a SS#. The HMA representative said that the doctor’s office probably just wanted the information in order to track us more quickly if there was a billing dispute. In other words, the doctor wasn’t content with my photo, my birthdate, my phone number, my driver’s license number, a copy of my insurance card, and contact information for Peggy’s employer; they also wanted the very last piece of information that an identity thief would need.
Now for my point. The most common means by which identity thieves operate is through insiders in medical offices, yet every form I fill out when I see a new doctor asks for information that the doctor doesn’t need but which gives identity thieves every last piece of information that they do need. I never provide SS#s, and no other doctor has insisted upon them. The fact that I was the only complainer in that large waiting room suggests how foolishly compliant most people are. In my case, I live with pain; I had waited two months to see this doctor; and I had spent $650 on a test she had ordered, so this would have made me more vulnerable to her unreasonable requirement had I not hardened myself against such things.
Just over the past ten years, I have seen businesses of all sorts rush pell-mell into invading their customers’ privacy and stripping them of their legal rights. For example, more and more stores are requiring the customer to provide his or her name, address, and phone number in return for an I.D. card that allows him to buy products on sale. These cards allow the stores to track his every purchase so that they—and the companies they sell the information to—can better target their advertising.
Where I live, at least, you can no longer buy a car without first agreeing to binding arbitration if a problem develops, and the dealer even reserves the right to pick the arbitrator! When I protested this, I was told that it was a government requirement, and that I was the first customer who ever had a problem with it. I later verified that these were lies to get me to fall into line, yet dealers couldn’t get away with such outrages if most customers didn’t fall into line, and it is this very mentality that disturbs me far more than the requirements themselves. Everyday, we give up more pieces of our privacy and even our basic legal rights, and I see no end to it as long as most people don’t have the guts to say no to unreasonable demands.
I have filed complaints about Heidi’s lies with the SS Inspector General, the Oregon Dept of Justice, and the Better Business Bureau. I have also asked my credit card company to wipe the charge from my bill. When I think of something else to do, I’ll do that too.
*A Social Security number is an individualized nine-digit number that is used for various government related purposes. If someone has your name, your SS#, and your birthday, he can steal your identity.
March 30 update: After demanding that I pay the FULL COST of the visit upfront, Heidi turned around and billed insurance for twice that amount. I went ballistic, and today she refunded ALL of the money I paid in the apparent hope of getting me off her back. My insurance company will still pay through the nose, but that’s by their choice not mine.