United States Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced legislation today to require the federal government to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare identification cards and communications to Medicare beneficiaries. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the Medicare program, has fallen behind most other public and private organizations in recognizing the danger of displaying Social Security numbers. The Social Security Number Protection Act ensures that the Social Security numbers of Medicare beneficiaries are properly protected.
"Every year, millions of Americans are victims of identity theft - many after their Social Security numbers are stolen. Instead of leading by example, the federal government is lagging behind private health insurers and other public agencies in protecting Medicare recipients from identity theft," Durbin said. "CMS's continued use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards needlessly places people at risk. Our bill ensures that a premium is placed on security and that personal information is protected."
"It makes no sense for a CMS to continue exposing Medicare beneficiaries to the risk of identity theft. We should pass this bill quickly and fix this problem once and for all," Bingaman said.
"This is one of those clear-cut problems that is easy to fix. With identity theft on the rise, removing social security numbers from Medicare beneficiary cards is the smart thing to do," said Senator Kohl, who chairs the Special Committee on Aging.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation. Nearly 8.4 million people were victims of identity theft last year alone, and these crimes accounted for more than $49.3 billion in fraudulent charges.
Nearly three years ago, Senator Durbin raised concerns about the use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards. Because of his efforts, CMS issued a report to Congress that outlined the steps that would be required to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, but has failed to implement those changes.
In May 2008, the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration issued a report which concluded that: "Given the millions of individuals at risk for identity theft and OMB's directive to eliminate unnecessary uses of [Social Security numbers], we believe immediate action is needed to address this significant vulnerability."
Today's legislation sets a timeframe for CMS to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards and communications to beneficiaries. The bill will:
* Require the Health and Human Services Secretary to implement procedures to eliminate the unnecessary collection, use, and display of Social Security numbers of Medicare beneficiaries within three years;
* Prohibit the display or the unencrypted electronic storage of Social Security numbers on newly issued Medicare cards;
* Prohibit the display or the unencrypted electronic storage of Social Security numbers on all Medicare cards within five years of enactment; and
* Prohibit the display of Social Security numbers on written and electronic communications to Medicare beneficiaries, unless essential for the operation of the Medicare program.