Identity theft is becoming an increasing concern, especially for seniors. In fact, one source of personal information that fraudsters can use to steal your identity is your Medicare card.
Part of the problem with Medicare cards is that your health insurance claim number (HICN) under Medicare is the same as your Social Security number (SSN)—and that full number is displayed on your Medicare card. The Social Security Administration warns consumers to avoid carrying their Social Security card with them, but Medicare cards instruct beneficiaries to carry their card at all times in order to be prepared to show it for billing purposes when they receive care.
While President Obama recently signed a bill that will prevent this number from appearing on Medicare cards, Medicare officials still have four years to start issuing cards with new identifiers and four additional years to issue new cards to current Medicare beneficiaries.
Until then, Medicare cardholders will continue to carry their SSN with them. This is a vital piece of personal information that, if stolen, can be used in a number of ways, from claiming your tax refund to opening credit lines in your name.
How can you reconcile this conflicting information? How do ensure that you receive your benefits without compromising your identity?
How to safely carry your Medicare card
If you want to carry some proof of Medicare on your person, you may want to consider photocopying your Medicare card, says the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. After you photocopy the card, you can cut out the number—except the last four digits. This is similar to how your SSN number is protected on other documents. You will end up with proof of Medicare coverage that you can carry with you, but you won’t be giving away your entire SSN.
You can also make a color copy of your Medicare card with the number deleted entirely.
Alternatives to carrying your Medicare card
You may not have to carry your Medicare card around with you at all. Many healthcare providers now have electronic records, or they keep track of your information once it is entered into their system. You can either take your Medicare card in only the first time you visit a new provider, or you can provide your number to your provider over the phone. (Just watch out for scammers, who might call you to solicit this information.)
You will have to bring your Medicare card with you for your first visit with a healthcare provider. That provider will likely make a copy of the card for their files.
While carrying a copy of your Medicare card with your SSN removed may help better protect your identity, you should never assume that a healthcare provider will accept a photocopy of the card itself. Be sure to check with your individual healthcare providers about their specific policies regarding proof of Medicare coverage.
In the event of an emergency, emergency personnel can’t refuse care until you provide them with your insurance card. You have to provide billing information before leaving the hospital, but you shouldn’t be denied care because you don’t have your Medicare card on your person if an emergency occurs.
How to help better protect your SSN
Even if you don’t carry your Medicare card with you, your SSN could be compromised in other places. To help better protect one of your most sensitive pieces of personal information, be careful to whom you give it.
For example, if a business requests your SSN, ask if there’s another identifier, such as a driver’s license number, that you can use instead. If you absolutely must give out the number, be sure to ask how it will be stored and protected. Also be sure to shred any documents that contain your SSN before throwing them away.
At some point over the next eight years, Medicare cards will no longer display Social Security numbers. Until then, it’s important to carry your card safely and be vigilant about who has access to this important piece of personally identifiable information.
Miranda Marquit is a freelance journalist specializing in financial topics. Read more of her writing on Huffington Post, Wise Bread, AllBusiness, and at her website, Planting Money Seeds. Follow her on Twitter: @MMarquit