I spent some time researching the Department of Health and Human Services website (www.hhs.gov) and found the press release for the proposed National Standard Employer Identifier. You can read the press release here: www.hhs.gov/news/press/1998pres/980616.html

Back in 1998, Bill Clinton was President and Donna Shalala was the HHS Secretary. In June, 1998, she proposed that the HHS standardize the identifying numbers assigned to employers in the health care industry by using the existing identifying numbers already assigned by the IRS. At the time, I guess companies were using different kinds of numbers. HHS proposed using the EIN (Employer Identification Number) issued to companies by the IRS.

The EIN, also known as the FEIN, is a number that has the exact same number of digits as a social security number. But instead of being in the Social Security number formation of XXX-XX-XXXX, the EIN is XX-XXXXXXX.

Both the SSN and FEIN are 9 digits, which has caused a HUGE problem that has the end result of increasing identity theft (among other things). What unscrupulous credit “repair” agencies often do is tell you they can get you a NEW Social Security number which will give you perfectly clean credit. (This is illegal, by the way. Don’t ever fall for it.)

In reality, what scam credit repair agencies do is apply for an FEIN for you, as if you were a business. Since it has the same number of digits as a SSN (some braniac thought that up), it acts like a new SSN. However, it really screws up victims because if you wind up using it when you get a job, your wages will be reported to the FEIN instead of your SSN, and you could wind up retiring with no Social Security benefits — meager as they may be.

Back to Shalala. In this plan to have everyone have a national standard employer identifer, the new law would call for a national standard ID number for use in the health care systems for health care providers and health plans.

And get this: “Further, the law also requires standards for common electronic health care transactions, code sets, and stringent new security rules to protect confidentiality of and access to health records. All health plans, health care clearning houses, and any health care providers that conduct electronic health transactions will be required to abide by these standards.”

Perfect — a proposal to get rid of SSNs in the health care world. We know that an increasing number of identities are stolen in medical offices. Not using SSNs to identify everyone is a good first step.

But this was 1998 — what happened to this great idea? I mean, c’mon. It’s 2006 — Almost eight years later.

Well, apparently, nothing has happened. I put in a call to the HHS to find out more about the proposal and why it died, which so far hasn’t been returned.

We’ll talk more about this on my Sunday show, as well as the new, startling numbers of people who are buying investment properties and second homes. You can find the show online at my website, or go to www.wsbradio.com from 11a-1p EST Sunday. I hope you’ll tune in.

Published: Apr 4, 2006