August 25, 2015 by Ric Edelman

Question: Your February newsletter article, “A Lesson About Privacy Protection — from My Mom,” advises us never to carry our Social Security cards. That’s wise, but those of us of a certain age, including your mom, are required to produce our Medicare cards along with our health insurance cards when we visit the doctor or hospital. Those Medicare cards carry our SSNs! What’s to be done? It seems outrageous that after SSNs have been removed from driver licenses, health insurance cards, checking accounts and elsewhere, they’re still on the Medicare cards. Is there another solution that I’m missing?

Ric: We’ve heard this concern from many people. More than 4,500 people a day sign up for Medicare. In the next decade, 18 million more will qualify, bringing Medicare enrollment to 74 million people by 2025. New beneficiaries are often shocked to see that their cards carry their SSNs.

Right on the card it says, “Carry your card with you when you are away from home. Let your hospital or doctor see your card when you require hospital, medical or health insurance services under Medicare.”

Isn’t it amazing how outdated and cumbersome the government’s system is?

But I’m glad to report that it’s finally moving to correct the problem. In April, President Obama signed a bill into law that will end the use of SSNs on Medicare cards. In his budget for 2016, he asked for $50 million as a down payment to support the removal of the numbers going forward. Congress was also motivated to act by the number of recent data breaches — including the one at Anthem, one of the largest health insurers.

The new law gives Medicare officials up to four years to start issuing new cards with new randomly generated Medicare identifying numbers — and four more years to reissue cards held by current beneficiaries.

Until you receive your new card, all I can say is use a hidden money belt, black out the SSN on your card or even leave the card at home despite what is written on it. You can always provide the info later if requested.

Originally published in Inside Personal Finance August 2015

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