Concerns over the growing threat of identity theft have led to several changes in the health care industry (as well as other industries) — particularly surrounding the use of Social Security numbers. And while the changes have led to more protections, there’s one very key vulnerability that many Americans are still confused about.
One group of Americans still at serious risk of ID theft
Health insurers used to use people’s Social Security number as their file number. Then a law was passed to stop the insurance companies from doing that. It was also entirely common for driver’s licenses in states across the country to feature your Social Security number. Then that became outlawed.
As identity thieves continued to evolve and become more sophisticated, it quickly became clear that Social Security numbers did not belong out in the open.
“Older adults are targeted by fraud artists, who use their Social Security numbers to get loans and credit cards,” said Amy E. Nofziger, manager of the fraud prevention program at AARP.
But for a long time, while the federal government passed laws banning these practices, no changes were made to Medicare cards — until last year, when President Obama signed a bill that would end the use of Social Security numbers on cards issued to beneficiaries.
Don’t wait by the mailbox for your new card
In April of last year, the federal government announced that Medicare beneficiaries would receive new cards that do not display their Social Security number. And after years of warnings about the risks facing older Americans — who are advised to carry their Medicare card everywhere with them in case of an emergency — the change was a big win in the fight against identity theft.
But it may take a while before these protections are implemented.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), ‘The bill gives HHS four years to issue modernized cards to new beneficiaries, and four more years to issue the new cards to existing beneficiaries.’
Congress provided $320 million — over the course of four years — to cover the changes, with the money coming from Medicare trust funds that are funded by payroll and other taxes, as well as beneficiary premiums.
So meanwhile, Medicare beneficiaries will continue to be at risk until the changes are rolled out.
With more and more Baby Boomers entering their retirement-age years, an estimated 10,000 Americans are enrolling in Medicare every day. About 80 million Americans are expected to be Medicare-eligible by 2035.