Medicare Cards Increase Risk for Identity Theft

Learn How to Protect Your Identity

Wallet showing social security card
Your Medicare card has your Social Security number on it. duckycards/Getty Images

Identity theft is on the rise. From January 1 through August 18, 2015, there were 176 healthcare data breaches involving 109,561,323 medical records. It doesn't help that Medicare cards blatantly post Social Security numbers as the Medicare Claim Number.

Whose Social Security Number Is on Your Medicare Card?

The first thing to understand is that Medicare enrollment is run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), not by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The two federal agencies work in concert together.

Your Medicare Claim Number will match your Social Security Claim Number. If you are receiving Social Security benefits based on someone else's record, for example, your spouse or your parent, that person's social security number will be listed as your Medicare Claim Number. When you become eligible for Social Security benefits on your own record, by retirement or otherwise, the Medicare Claim Number will be changed to your personal Social Security number.

Will Social Security Numbers Be Taken Off Your Medicare Card?

The debate about taking Social Security numbers off Medicare cards has been going on for years. The Office of the Inspector General made this recommendation in formal reports in 2006 and again in 2008. The U.S. Government Accountability Office not only published a report on the subject in 2012 but also gave recommendations on how to do it in 2015.

They recommended changing from paper cards to electronic Medicare cards, replacing Social Security numbers with other identifying information put into bar codes.

Unfortunately, it has come down to dollars and cents. In 2011, CMS estimated that the cost of changing all existing Medicare cards would be prohibitive, as high as $845 million.

 That left Medicare beneficiaries, the people actually at risk for identify theft, to pay the highest price.

This year things may be starting to change. President Obama has signed into law a bill that will remove Social Security information from your Medicare cards. The change will not happen overnight. The Department of Health and Human Services has four years, until 2019, to make this change for people new to Medicare but eight years, until 2023, to change cards for those already on Medicare.

What Can You Do While You Wait?

In the meantime, you have to guard your card. Carrying around any cards or documents with your Social Security number on it comes with great risk. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you could be handing your financial future to identity thieves.

Many people follow recommendations made by the Privacy Rights Clearing House to make copies of their Medicare card and keep the original at home. They advise you cut the paper copy down to wallet size and then cut out the last four digits of your Medicare Claim Number.

Alternatively, you could use a permanent marker to black out the last four digits. While you will need your original Medicare card the first time you see a healthcare provider, this copied card can be a handy resource at follow-up visits. It is at least one way you can decrease your risk of identity theft.


Carrns A. Why Medicare Cards Still Show Social Security Numbers. The New York Times. Published September 2012.

Identity Theft Resource Center. 2015 Data Breach Category Summary. Updated August 18, 2015. Accessed August 22, 2015.

Office of the Inspector General. New Medicare Cards Will Not Display Social Security Numbers. Published April 15, 2015.

United States Government Accountability Office. MEDICARE: Action Needed to Remove Social Security Numbers from Medicare Cards. Published August 1, 2012.

United States Government Accountability Office. MEDICARE: Potential Uses of Electronically Readable Cards for Beneficiaries and Providers. Published March 2015.

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