Well, They Did Ask Me
Over the past couple of weeks any number of my friends, acquaintances and former co-workers have asked me this question. News broke of a former county deputy sheriff, a suicide last month, who had in fact scammed friends, relatives and co-workers with a cancer hoax. The local police organizations had raised $20,000 for his "medical bills"; co-workers had driven him to appointments and picked him up after his "treatments"; they had donated sick leave when his own ran out in the course of his multi-year battle with 3 supposed bouts with lung, brain and testicular cancer.
Outward appearances were faked with weight loss, careful depiliation and selective use of tanning beds to simulate radiation burns. Autopsy results? No active cancer, no evidence of cancer, no evidence of surgeries, no nothing. Family devastated. Friends and co-workers embarrassed and angry. Local residents indignant. Those who don't like him are pointing the finger at the sheriff for lax supervision.
So, here are my thoughts: I do find it hard to believe that the family could have been unaware of this, as claimed, but I wasn't there and I don't have any idea how open the husband and wife were about health. Some people don't WANT to share all the gory details with their nearest and dearest, and some nearest and dearest don't WANT to know. You can't force involvement with someone who doesn't want to share, on either side.
I think co-workers can easily be left in the dark. Health is so very private; most patients provide the minimum of detail. If one looks the part, as this fellow did, people will accept what they're told, commiserate, and be thankful that they're not in the same boat. It would be easy to fool people and, unfortunately, it happens all too often.
I think people generally misunderstand HIPAA. Yes, one's employer can ask for information from one for administrative purposes. But the employer cannot directly query the provider unless one gives written permission. If the employee provides forged documentation, as in this case, and does NOT give written permission for the employer to consult the records directly, as in this case, the employer has no way of verifying what has been said. It didn't matter that the sheriff had his doubts; he was in no legal position to demand the information, and that in no way reflects upon his supervision.
Finally, I think that this is a perfect example of why health care needs to be reformed. We are easily taken in by hoaxes and scammers because it's easy to believe that an individual can be faced with insurmountable medical bills under the present system. As I told one indignant friend, "Saint H and I are one life-flight and a few unexpected expenses away from bankruptcy ourselves, and I have good insurance and some money in the bank."
Those who complain about the people "who get everything paid for": All I can say in response is, Few people want to be uninsured, and nobody asks to be sick. Doctors are obligated to provide treatment by the terms of their training and licenses. What would you do, ask the under- and uninsured to just go die quietly because they somehow don't deserve proper care?
If I make a few friends, acquaintances and former co-workers angry because I tell them what I really think ... well, they did ask me. Sorry if my opinion doesn't match theirs, but those who know me well shouldn't be surprised by this.