By Cathie Gandel - September 2, 2008 - From the AARP Bulletin print edition
Werner was concerned that his Social Security number was clearly
visible on his Medicare card, so the 85-year-old retired chemist from
Scott Depot, W.Va., scratched out the two middle digits. “I was worried
about identity theft,” he says.
Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr., inspector general of the Social Security
Administration, agrees with Werner. “Displaying [Social Security
numbers] on Medicare cards unnecessarily places millions of individuals
at risk for identity theft,” O’Carroll said in a recent report. Plus,
beneficiaries have been instructed to carry their cards with them,
increasing their vulnerability.
But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is reluctant to
fix a system that it says is not broken. “There have been no reports of
identity theft traced back to Medicare cards,” says Charlene Frizzera,
chief operating officer of CMS. “It would cost about $500 million and
take three years to start up and five years to implement a new system.”
And 44 million Medicare beneficiaries would have to be educated about
Other agencies such as the Veterans Administration do not use Social Security numbers on cards they issue.
The Senate Finance Committee is urging bipartisan legislation that
would force CMS to revamp the system. “It is unthinkable that Medicare
puts its beneficiaries at risk by continuing to print Social Security
numbers on standard identification cards,” says Sen. Charles Schumer,