April 30, 2015

New Federal Law Removes Social Security Numbers From Medicare Cards

According to a recent New York Times article, President Obama signed legislation in April that prohibits Medicare from imprinting Social Security numbers (SSNs) on Medicare cards. Although most private insurers no longer use SSNs for identification purposes, Medicare has continued to imprint them on over 50 million benefit cards.

Congress appropriated $320 million over four years from Medicare’s two trust fund accounts to pay for the new cards. These accounts are funded by beneficiary premiums and payroll and other taxes, among other sources. Medicare administrators must start issuing cards with new identifiers within four years. They have an additional four years to reissue cards to current beneficiaries. (Presumably, SSNs will be replaced with a randomly generated identifier.)

According to the article, Congress passed the legislation in response to the increased use of electronic health records and rising prevalence of identity theft.  Various federal officials and government watchdogs have called for the removal of SSNs from Medicare benefit cards for several years. For example, since 2004, the Government Accountability Office has urged officials to stop using SSNs as identifiers. And, in 2008, the Social Security inspector general called for the immediate removal of SSNs from Medicare cards, citing the unnecessary risk of identity theft.