Tags: Medicare | cards | Social Security | seniors

Social Security Numbers to Be Removed from Medicare Cards

Image: Social Security Numbers to Be Removed from Medicare Cards
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By    |   Monday, 20 Apr 2015 09:40 AM

A new bipartisan law written to overhaul how the federal Medicare program pays doctors has a side benefit — removing Social Security numbers from benefit cards — but that change will take several years and cost millions of dollars.

"The Social Security number is the key to identity theft, and thieves are having a field day with seniors' Medicare cards," Texas GOP Rep. Sam Johnson, who pushed for the bipartisan legislation with Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, commented about the change, reports The New York Times.

The change is coming a bit late compared to the rest of the industry. Private insurance companies no longer use Social Security numbers to identify card holders, and the federal government has also forbidden the insurers from using the numbers on insurance cards when medical or drug benefits are provided through Medicare contracts.

President Barack Obama, who signed the law last week, requested $50 million in his 2016 budget for a down payment "to support the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards." Further, reports the Times, Congress has provided $320 million over four years, with the money coming from Medicare trust funds, to pay for the change.

Medicare has up to four years to start issuing the new cards, and four more years to reissue current cards, but meanwhile, the number of beneficiaries is growing by more than 4,500 people a day. This means that 18 million more people will qualify for benefits by 2025, bringing the enrollment to 74 million recipients.

The Social Security numbers are, for now, put on benefit cards that also have one or two letters or digits to show the recipient's eligibility.

But cyberattacks, such as the February data breach at Anthem that exposed the personal data of tens of millions of customers, pushed Congress to change the rules about the Medicare cards.

Medicare is still working out the details, but will likely replace the Social Security number with a randomly generated account number.

Recipients are already saying they wish their cards, which should be carried when they are
not home, did not contain their Social Security numbers.

"The Social Security number has the potential to open up your files, your life to hackers and thieves," Paula Ercolini, 70, of Sharpsburg, Ga., told the Times. "But you almost have to provide it when you go to new doctors. They won't see you if you don't."

The Government Accountability Office has been urging officials since 2004 to cut back the use of Social Security numbers to identify people. Further, the White House Office of Management and Budget told agencies in 2007 to eliminate the "unnecessary collection and use of Social Security numbers" in two years.

And by 2008, the inspector general of Social Security sought immediate action to remove the numbers, and that year, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs began plans to take the numbers off their identification cards.

However, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare, has "lagged behind" when it comes to Medicare, the Government Accountability Office said.

Medicare, though, said its top specialists were bogged down building and repairing the troubled HealthCare.gov website, and complained in an internal agency report about the challenges of removing the Social Security numbers from its cards.

Medicare is a massive program that uses more than 200 computer systems and pays out more than a billion claims every year, reports the Times.

AARP, which lobbies for older Americans, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare both said they support the change.

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A new bipartisan law written to overhaul how the federal Medicare program pays doctors has a side benefit — removing Social Security numbers from benefit cards.
Medicare, cards, Social Security, seniors
590
2015-40-20
Monday, 20 Apr 2015 09:40 AM
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