Joint Press

Sens. Collins and McCaskill Question Why More Isn't Being Done to Remove Social Security Numbers from Medicare Cards

Social Security Numbers on Medicare Cards Poses Increased Risk to Seniors of Identity Theft, Fraud


WASHINGTON, DC-- Despite the fact that more than a decade has passed since the Government Accountability Office (GAO) singled out the widespread use of Americans’ Social Security numbers (SSNs) on government ID cards, such as Medicare cards, as a factor that could lead to increased risk of identity theft and fraud, the government continues to include seniors’ Social Security numbers on Medicare cards.  Senators Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, are calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees the Medicare program, to provide them with information about what it is doing to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards and replace them with identifying information that would result in a decreased risk of identity theft for our nation’s seniors.

            According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft is the most common consumer complaint with nearly 300,000 cases reported in 2013 alone.  Approximately 50 million Medicare cards currently in use display a Social Security number as a beneficiary’s identifying number.

In a letter to the CMS Acting Administrator, Senators Collins and McCaskill wrote, “Recent massive cyberattacks by hackers, including a breach of Anthem, the nation’s second largest health insurance company, have prompted renewed calls for CMS to remove SSNs from Medicare cards to prevent fraudulent Medicare claims. In addition, the role that visual display of SSNs on Medicare cards has played in putting beneficiaries—including more than 41 million seniors—at risk for identity theft has been known for more than a decade…We are therefore writing to request information relating to CMS’s efforts to remove SSNs from Medicare cards in order to help protect Medicare beneficiaries from identity theft.”

While the GAO has recommended on several occasions that CMS work to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards and replace them with an alternative identifier, the agency reports that little has been done in this regard.

As part of the Committee’s investigation into this matter, Senators Collins and McCaskill have asked CMS to report to them specifically what actions have been taken to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards. The Senators pointed out that other agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs have already developed plans to remove SSNs from their identification cards.

The letter can be found here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/download/slavitt_cmms

The Senate Special Committee on Aging is the principal Senate Committee tasked with oversight of programs affecting our nation’s seniors.  Fighting fraud targeted at seniors is among the top priorities of Chairman Collins and Ranking Member McCaskill.

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