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Social Security Numbers on Medicare Cards

During our most recent seminar, “Are you Protected,” the question was raised asking if there is any legislation pending to use a different means of identification on Medicare cards  instead of Social Security numbers. This issue clearly poses a threat of identity theft, which is a heightened concern to all. Therefore, we researched this topic and learned there is unfortunately no change to the law yet.  However, here is some background and the most recent status on this topic.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Bush Administration ordered that all SSNs be removed from public documents to create identity-safe documents.  At that time most federal agencies accepted this change, yet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) continue to issue and replace lost, stolen, or expired cards.  According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in 2013, “the CMS has forgone the opportunity to make changes to even begin to implement a solution to protect seniors from potential identity theft by leaving the SSN on a Medicare card they advise seniors to carry continuously.”  That same report also states that the CMS is able to handle making the change from SSN identification numbers to a new identification system.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that providing new identification numbers would be a very intensive project.  It is estimated that it would cost at least $800 million and take 5 years to issue new numbers and cards to more than 47 million people.  Additionally, health care providers would have to update all records, as well.

In 2013 the CMS seemed eager and willing to work with Congress to develop an approach to remove SSNs from the Medicare cards.  However, up until recently no definitive action has been taken.  On June 4, 2014, an article on CBS reported a New York Congressmen was introducing a bill to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.  The article indicates that as many as one in five seniors is hit by fraud and something needs to be done to increase their protection as soon as possible.

HFA will continue to monitor the progress of this Bill to determine if any action or change takes place.  In the meantime, here is what the Privacy Rights Clearing House (a national consumer resource on identity theft) suggests you should do: Photocopy your Medicare card and cut it down to wallet size. Then remove or cut out the last four digits of the SSN and carry the remaining photocopy with you rather than the actual card. But you will need to have your original Medicare card with you the first time you visit any health care providers, to enable them to make a photocopy of it for their files.

We will report back with any updates!

 

FOOTNOTES:

1. http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-07-2012/medicare-card-identity-theft.html

2. http://waysandmeans.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=355269

3. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/06/04/rep-steve-israel-remove-social-security-numbers-from-medicare-cards-to-curb-id-theft/