[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today introduced legislation 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.
“Nearly 11.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2011 – many after their Social Security numbers were stolen – and these crimes accounted for more than $37 billion in fraudulent charges,” said Durbin. “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. CMS’s continued use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards needlessly places people at risk. This bill would ensure that a premium is placed on security and that personal information is protected.”
“Listing Social Security numbers on Medicare cards needlessly leaves millions of Americans susceptible to identity theft,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must protect Medicare beneficiaries by deterring identity theft. Removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards is simple step to help keep our seniors personal information secure.”
Many states have recognized the danger of using a Social Security Number as an identifier and 33 have passed laws prohibiting health insurers from using a Social Security Number on a beneficiary’s card or otherwise displaying it. In addition, the federal government has stopped using Social Security Numbers on Veteran Identification Cards, Department of Defense identification cards, and health insurance cards issued to federal employees participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.
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 would:
- 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.