Thursday, May 14, 2015

Medicare cards will no longer be issued with Social Security Numbers

NAHAM News reported on this on April 23.  The New York Times article, New Cards for Medicare Recipients Will Omit Social Security Numbers (April 20, 2015), gives a good account of the issue as part of a larger bill signed by President Obama recently. 

The two lead paragraphs help with the background -

Concerned about the rising prevalence and sophistication of identity theft, most private health insurance companies have abandoned the use of Social Security numbers to identify individuals. The federal government even forbids private insurers to use the numbers on insurance cards when they provide medical or drug benefits under contract with Medicare.

But Medicare itself has continued the practice, imprinting Social Security numbers on more than 50 million benefit cards despite years of warnings from government watchdogs that it placed millions of people at risk for financial losses from identity theft.

The change, mandated in a larger bill focused primarily on overhauling the way doctors are paid for treating Medicare patients, doesn't come without a cost -

Congress provided $320 million over four years to pay for the change. The money will come from Medicare trust funds that are financed with payroll and other taxes and with beneficiary premiums.

Medicare will have up to four years to start issuing cards with new identifiers and will have four more years to reissue cards held by current beneficiaries. Medicare intends to replace the Social Security number with “a randomly generated Medicare beneficiary identifier,” but the NYT reports that details are still being worked out.

On an interesting side note, the article also points out the long call from within government to discontinue the practice of using SSNs on Medicare cards and the slow response to those calls by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said she was puzzled by the delays. “This still does not appear to be a priority” for Medicare administrators, she said.

Medicare officials said their top information technology specialists had been preoccupied with efforts to build and repair, the online system for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which was overcome by technical problems soon after it began operating 18 months ago.

Well, generating a random number as an identifier is a not so novel concept.  As Medicare works on replacing the SSN with a new identifier for purposes of beneficiary benefits, it is to be hoped others give thought to the use of viable identifiers to be used for purposes of patient safety, through put and access to health records.  Let us know your thoughts on this.  What would the set of identifiers or unique identifier look like for the purpose of positive patient identity?

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