SALT LAKE CITY – It was an average day in Salt Lake City for Anndorie Cromar. She’d sent two of her kids off to school and was at work. Her mother was at home taking care of her twin 2-year-old boys when someone left a business card on the front door.
It was a caseworker from Child Protective Services. When Cromar spoke to her on the phone, it marked the beginning of a grueling journey.
“They basically said that they were investigating me and that the child I just had tested positive for methamphetamine,” Cromar said.
But Cromar hadn't just given birth. When she tried to explain this to the Child Protective Services officer, they didn’t believe her.
“Their response was, ‘We know you're a drug addict. Don't try to change the subject. This has to do with the baby you left at the hospital,’” Cromar recalled. “I said, 'I think you have the wrong person. I'm a mother of four,' and they said, 'Oh, we know all about the four children you have at home and we're as concerned for their safety as we are for the safety of the baby. You're using methamphetamine – all four of your children are in danger.'"
What they didn’t know – and what Cromar wouldn’t find out until days later – was that her driver’s license, stolen from her car earlier that year, had made her the victim of medical identity fraud.
When Cromar tried to untangle the mess, her progress was hindered by medical privacy laws, which meant that once she reported her case as medical identity theft to the hospital, they restricted access to her own medical records – making it difficult for her to know if they were correct.
“They wouldn't let me see my medical records… [it is as if] the hospital is trying to protect the perpetrator of the crime instead of the victim of the crime,” she said.
To this day, Cromar says she doesn’t have any right to go in and make sure that her medical records got cleaned up.
Rios says medical identity fraud – and the problems addressing it when it happens – is an unintended consequence of new requirements about information sharing. Under the law, medical information is increasingly available and exchangeable through Electronically Shared Health Records, or EHRs.
"A lot of hospitals now have actually requirements to make it so they can share data and interchange data,” Rios said. “It's not that they want to do this. They have to do it."
Another unintended consequence: Once someone is a victim, it makes it harder to ensure that their records are rectified.
"I don't know what information got transmitted electronically to some other database,” Cromar said. “I still don't know what's put in the baby's medical records. I don't know if the baby's medical records say, ‘Cromar was a meth addict and had this baby.’”
She fears for the day that she needs urgent medical care.
”What happens if I need a transfusion and go to the hospital?” she asked. “Which blood type do they go off of? Do they go off of her blood type? Do they of off of my blood type?"
For Cromar, the emotion of the ordeal didn’t end when the bills stopped. She worried about the baby she’d never met, but for whom she was named the legal mother.
"You know, it felt different to be called the legal mom of a child, and there was some emotional responsibility,” she said.
Cromar says she thought about trying to get custody of the baby.
“I knew that they were going to have to take the child and place it in a home. First of all, the child was born addicted to drugs. Second of all, nobody knew who or where the mom was,” she said. "And there was a part of me that was like, ‘Well, I'm already the legal mom. Maybe this is what's supposed to happen.’"
Cromar chose not to pursue adoption, but she says it took her several years to feel like her life was separate from the child she had never met. But there are still reminders when she least expects it. While things may have been straightened out on paper, electronic data in the vast system still contains false, potentially harmful information – the baby still carries Cromar's name.
"Still to this day, sometimes I'll go to the pharmacy and along with my kids, this child will pop up [in my records] – so it'll be my kids – and this extra child that kind of pops up and is grouped in,” Cromar said. “Information just gets in electronically and there's no way to really be sure that it's fixed all the places that it goes."