U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today introduced legislation to protect the identity of Medicare card holders. This legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), in consultation with the Commissioner of Social Security, to ensure that social security numbers (SSNs) are not included on Medicare identification cards.
"This bill would eliminate the threat of identity theft when a Medicare card is lost or stolen," Senator Brown said. "Medicare cards carry insurance information that seniors need to have with them at all times, so it's up to us to take social security numbers off those cards. The status quo is an identity theft nightmare, and we need to end it."
"Including social security numbers on Medicare cards creates an unnecessary risk for our seniors. This bi-partisan, common sense legislation will help protect our seniors from the growing crime of identity theft," Dr. Coburn said.
According to a 2006 Federal Trade Commission Survey Report, 8.3 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2005. The report further concludes that those cases cost the U.S. economy over $15 billion. The Social Security Administration (SSA) reminds citizens on its website not to "routinely carry your social security card or other documents that display your number" in order to prevent identity theft.
However, the federal government itself has ignored this warning by issuing more than 44 million Medicare cards that display SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICN) on the front of cards. These numbers contain the beneficiary's SSN followed by a letter. On the back of these cards, beneficiaries are advised to carry their cards wherever they go-advice in direct opposition to SSA guidance.
According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "does not plan to remove the SSN from Medicare identification cards."
Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today by U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX).
Sen. Brown has long been an advocate of removing SSNs from Medicare cards. Last year, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Sen. Brown that would increase Medicare's budget authority by $25 million over the next three years in order to begin the work of removing SSNs from Medicare cards. In 2008, Sen. Brown introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would require CMS to remove SSNs from Medicare identification cards.