off the charts
POLICY INSIGHT
BEYOND THE NUMBERS

Medicare Needs to Protect Social Security Numbers

The Social Security Administration works hard to protect Social Security numbers (SSNs) from unauthorized use and thereby prevent identify theft.  The agency advises people to be careful about sharing their SSNs.  Moreover, it says, “DO NOT routinely carry your card or other documents that display your number.” In recent years, both public and private institutions have curtailed their use of Social Security numbers.  SSNs no longer appear on driver’s licenses or college IDs.  Medicare, however, has not gotten the message. I recently applied for Medicare. The online application process was easy and quick, and I soon received my Medicare card in the mail.  But I was distressed that the card showed my Social Security number — and directed me to carry the card. Several bills before Congress would remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards — a change that consumer advocates have long been seeking to help fight identity theft.  H.R. 1509, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), has bipartisan support from 46 cosponsors. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards by administrative action.  Because CMS has failed to do so, supposedly for reasons of cost, Congress should require the change and provide the implementation funding.  In the meantime, beneficiaries should carefully guard their Medicare card.
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