Seniors Beware! Leave Your Medicare Cards at Home!

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This morning I was listening to the radio and learned something that I found very disturbing in this day and age of identity theft. Did you know that every Medicare card is printed with the social security numbers of the card holder and on the back of the card it instructs seniors to carry their card with them at all times? Medicare’s identification number is called the Health Insurance Claim Number, and the HICN is the Social Security number. And this number is printed on every card.

Needless to say, if a card falls into the wrong hands, this could certainly result in identity theft, as well as fraudulent benefit claims submitted to the Medicare system on the legitimate card holder’s behalf.

Not only is there a risk of someone stealing a senior’s card and using their social security numbers, there is also a risk in the Medicare Summary Notice mailed to beneficiaries quarterly as it also displays the full HICN. According to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2010 and in 2011, more than 13,000 Medicare Summary Notices were mailed to the wrong addresses due to a “printing error” by a government contractor. Surprised? Me, either.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it recovered a RECORD-HIGH $4.3 BILLION in fiscal 2013 from attempted fraud schemes that were directed at Medicare and other federal health insurance programs. It is widely acknowledge in the government that identity theft and fraud are a big issue with the social security numbers being printed on the Medicare ID cards, but it will be costly to fix the problem. So don’t fix it, right?

Ironically enough… well not really as we’d expect this with big government… the federal government has recognized this probable risk for years and several bills have been introduced in Congress to remove the numbers from the cards, yet nothing much has happened.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the agency that administers Medicare. They have publicly acknowledged that having the Social Security numbers on the ID cards and the Quarterly Reports is a problem and should be removed. But they also say it is an expensive endeavor and that they have to coordinate and cooperate with the Social Security Administration, as well as other agencies involved. CMS estimates it would cost between $217 million to $317 million to actually correct this problem. Big government at it’s finest.

Because this has been an issue for a while, and as more identity theft crimes are on the rise, the George W. Bush administration ordered ALL federal agencies to eliminate any unnecessary use of Social Security numbers in 2007. To date, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have indeed removed the numbers from ID cards that they issue. And, other federal employees’ health ID cards have had the social security numbers removed. So, it isn’t impossible. Other agencies have taken the necessary precautions to protect their card holders. Since George W. Bush’s order to remove the social security numbers from cards issued by federal agencies, (mind you it’s been seven years), CMS has identified two very obvious ways to fix the problem: 1) replacing the HICN with a new number, or 2) masking out the first five digits of the SSN number. Well… duh. These would work, obviously. However, to date there has been no action taken.

“As early as December 2004, IRTPA legislation prohibited states from displaying the SSN on driver’s licenses or motor vehicle registrations. In 2007, the President’s Identity Theft Task Force (2007, 3) included among its SSN recommendations that “federal agencies should reduce the unnecessary use of SSNs, the most valuable commodity for an identity thief.”

“On November 18, 2008, President George W. Bush issued EO 13478 rescinding the 1943 EO requiring all federal agencies to use the SSN as an identifier. Then in December, the FTC (2008) issued a plea to companies, schools, and other private entities to find better ways to authenticate identities than using the SSN. State and local entities have begun to delete SSNs on electronic versions of public records. Congress has also considered legislation that would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to use an alternative to the SSN as the Medicare claim number. Even SSA, which created the SSN for its program use, has ceased to print the full SSN on some of its correspondence with beneficiaries (Lockhart 2002). The agency now advises individuals to keep their Social Security card in a safe place and not to carry it with them (SSA 2007a).”

As you can see, other agencies have stepped forward and have spent the necessary money and man-hours to correct the problem, yet the CMS has done nothing to date. There is a petition online that is being promoted and supported by Clark Howard of the Clark Howard Show to end the use of social security numbers on Medicare cards. Please take a moment to review and sign the petition so that this can be stopped. And also, please forward this article to any seniors you know and remind them to leave their cards at home. If the wrong person steals their wallet or purse, they could easily become victims of identity theft.

PETITION LINK: Stop Using Social Security Numbers As Medicare ID Numbers

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