Answering Questions on Target, Health Coverage and Top 1%

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Today I have answers to questions on the Target data breach, whether Covered California policies cover you while traveling outside the United States and the top 1 percent in California.

Q: Carole H. asks, "During November-December I shopped at Target and used my debit card. After the disclosure that Target had been hacked, I blocked my debit card and got a new one. I also ran a credit report to check for any new activities.

This made me feel comfortable until I read that the big worry about identity theft was that fraudulent tax filings could be made and refunds would be made to the thieves. Is there anything to do to prevent this?"

A: Identity thieves would need your Social Security number to file a tax return in your name and get a tax refund, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

It is unlikely that Target would have your Social Security number unless you applied for a Target Redcard debit or credit card. The application for those cards does ask for a Social Security number.

"At this time, there is no indication that Social Security numbers or birthdates are part of this incident," says Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. She adds that the "investigation is continuing."

Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring from Experian to anyone who shopped in a Target store "to provide our guests with additional peace of mind," she adds.

Stephens notes that credit monitoring is useful if someone has acquired your Social Security number and applied for credit in your name. It is not useful if someone has simply acquired your debit or credit card number and gone on a shopping spree.

People who are concerned about their Social Security numbers being compromised should take Target up on the free offer and "file their tax return early and get their refund," Stephens says.

Another concern is that identity thieves could take advantage of the Target situation to trick people such as Carole into disclosing their Social Security number.

"Either somebody who is connected with the original data theft or just an enterprising scammer contacts her pretending to be from Target or someone else in connection with this.

"In order to help her they say they need her Social Security number," says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection with the Consumer Federation of America.

If consumers get any calls, e-mails, letters or text messages offering help in connection with the Target breach, they should be very cautious, Grant says.

Before responding, they should contact whoever the person claims to represent directly to confirm that the request is legitimate. Rather than calling a number or going to a website the caller provides, consumers should look up the number or website independently, she adds.

For more on Target's data breach and credit monitoring offer, see

For advice from the consumer federation, see

Q: Kate S. asks, "I got a health insurance policy through Covered California. Will it cover me if I have a medical emergency while traveling outside of the country?"

A: In most cases, yes. A state law known as the Knox Keene Act requires all health plans regulated by the California Department of Managed Care to cover emergencies wherever they occur, whether that is inside or outside the state or country, says Marta Green, a spokeswoman for the department.

The department regulates all plans offered through Covered California except for one HealthNet plan regulated by the California Department of Insurance.

The Department of Managed Care also regulates all health maintenance organization and some preferred provider organization plans sold in California whether they are sold on or off the exchange, except for self-insured plans, where the employer pays for its employees' health care expenses.

Employers often hire insurance companies to administer their self-insured plans, so it's not always easy for employees to know whether their plan is self-insured or not.

Knox Keene Act does not apply to plans regulated by the California Department of Insurance, which oversees some PPOs and other plans not regulated by the managed care department.

However, a similar law took effect Jan. 1 that applies to individual and small-employer plans regulated by the Department of Insurance. For plans under its jurisdiction not covered by this new law, emergency coverage abroad "is based on the contract between the provider and the insured," says Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the department.

A spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California says, "We cover emergency and urgent care for all members out of state and internationally, regardless of regulator." Some Blue Shield plans come with a Blue Card, which offers coverage for non-emergency care outside the country.

Kaiser Permanente, whose plans fall under the managed care department, covers emergency care for members traveling abroad, a Kaiser spokesman said.

Even when plans say they cover medical emergencies outside the country, they might try to deny high-ticket items such as helicopter evacuation or transport back to the United States for surgery, saying it was not an emergency or medically necessary, says Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

Also note that original Medicare does not cover medical emergencies outside the United States, except in limited circumstances. Some Medigap polices, which cover expenses Medicare does not, do cover foreign emergencies. For details, go to

Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, does not cover services outside the United States except for emergency services requiring hospitalization in Canada or Mexico. For emergency services provided in another U.S. state, Medi-Cal will provide reimbursement, but the provider must fill out a full enrollment form (if the cost is $599 or more) or a simplified form (if less than $599.)

Exception: Some Medi-Cal recipients in rural areas can choose a doctor in a neighboring state for all services.

Q: In response to last Sunday's column, Jon S. asks, "What is your definition of the top 1 percent of California taxpayers that pay 41 percent of the state income taxes? Just trying to determine if it applies to me?"

A: In 2011, the top 1 percent of California tax returns came from 147,860 households with adjusted gross income of $461,789 and up.

Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail: [email protected] Blog: Twitter: @kathpender


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