The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to assign each beneficiary a health insurance claim number. This is required to document Medicare eligibility and most other administrative activities.
Many new Medicare beneficiaries are shocked to see their SSN printed right on their card, especially with the increase in cyberattacks and data breaches. However, a new law may give them comfort that their information is better protected.
Along with repealing the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) Medicare physician payment formula, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 also says that SSNs can no longer be displayed, coded, or embedded on Medicare cards in an effort to help protect consumers against identity theft.
This is something that most private health insurance companies have done already, and the federal government even forbids private insurers from using the numbers on insurance cards when they provide medical or drug benefits under contract with Medicare. But, Medicare continued the practice until now, imprinting numbers on more than 50 million benefit cards.
So, how will this affect physician practices? Practices have had the task of obtaining patient SSNs in order to have their insurance claims processed. As incidents of identity theft have increased, more and more patients refuse to provide their SSN out of fear of identity theft, resulting in potential strains on physician-patient relationships.
Physician practices also may want to contact their billing software vendors to make sure they are in compliance with this new ruling.
The law requires the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to remove SSNs from Medicare cards no later than four years after its enactment. President Obama signed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 into law on April 16, 2015.
A recent New York Times article reported than more than 4,500 people a day sign up for Medicare, and in the coming decade, 18 million more are expected to qualify, bringing the total Medicare enrollment to 74 million by 2025.