Friday, October 25, 2013

Identity Theft-the Need for Medicare Cards to Change

Hopefully none of you (or anyone you know) has ever been a victim of identity theft. We have had some variation of an elder consumer protection program as part of our Center's activities for some time.  Invariably someone in the audience of one of our consumer protection presentations will have been a victim of identity theft and will respond that it takes (in some cases) years for the matter to be cleared up once and for all.  I've also had students who have had their identities stolen.

So we all need to be vigilant and protect our identities-whether in the real world or the virtual world. There are many ways predators steal our identities, including appropriating our Social Security numbers.  Did you realize that Medicare still uses social security numbers on Medicare cards? That's not anything new, of course, and over time, there have been calls for Medicare to use something else for the identifying numbers.  Most recently, the Government Accounting Office has weighed in on this with its September 10, 2013 report,  MEDICARE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Needs to Pursue a Solution for Removing Social Security Numbers from Cards. As the report notes on page 3, Medicare has previously investigated removing Social Security numbers (SSN) from Medicare cards, and in fact, President Bush's administration had ordered the removal of Social Security numbers from public documents.  Yet, evidently, according to the GAO findings, CMS hasn't taken sufficient steps to remove SSNs from Medicare cards. The report discusses the IT and administrative issues as well as costs.  The report concludes on page 22 that although CMS has done some work, it "has not actively established and pursued a goal to identify an IT solution" for eliminating the use of Social Security numbers of Medicare cards. The report recommends CMS start the process to create and implement a plan as part of "ongoing IT modernization initiatives." (GAO Highlights). 

Thinking about the fact that people carry their insurance cards, including their Medicare cards, with them in their billfolds or purses, imagine the impact that the loss or theft of the billfold or purse would have---it is the crime that keeps on giving as the perpetrator not only steals the money or credit cards, but also has the tools at his or her fingertips to steal the victim's identity.

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Excellent post! And a total disgrace by CMS for not implementing this change. Before CMS was created, the Medicare program was run by Health Care Financing Administration, whose acronym, HCFA, apparently still applies: Hardly Cares For Anyone.

Posted by: Richard Kaplan | Oct 25, 2013 9:40:00 AM

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