WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Senate passage of his amendment that would give Medicare the resources it needs to begin removing social security numbers from Medicare cards. This amendment would help protect our nation’s 44 million Medicare cardholders from the threat of identity theft.
“This would give Medicare the resources it needs to protect American seniors,” said Brown. “By removing social security numbers on Medicare cards, we will make seniors far less vulnerable to identity theft. The federal government should not expose seniors to needless risk. It’s time we take action so seniors can use Medicare cards without fear of stolen identities.”
In 2005, 8.3 million Americans were the victim of identity theft, costing 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.”
In 2008, Brown introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would require CMS to remove social security numbers from Medicare identification cards. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that similar legislation would cost $25 million over three years.
Brown’s amendment would increase Medicare’s budget authority by $25 million over the next three years so it can begin the work of removing SSNs from Medicare cards. The amendment is paid for by reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in other federal programs (Function 920). The amendment is endorsed by the Consumers Union and AARP.