Action Needed to Remove Social Security Numbers from Medicare Cards

Gao.gov: 8/1/12

In its November 2011 report, CMS presented three options for removing SSNs from Medicare cards. One option would truncate the SSN so that only the last four digits would appear on the card. However, the full SSN would continue to be used by both beneficiaries and providers for all Medicare business transactions. The other two options would replace the display of the SSN on the Medicare card with a newly developed identifier that CMS calls the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). In one of these options, this new identifier would be used by the beneficiary in their interactions with CMS; however, the provider would continue to use the SSN to interact with CMS. In the other, both the beneficiary and provider would use the new identifier printed on the Medicare card and the SSN would be entirely excluded from the transaction. CMS, SSA, and RRB reported that all three options would generally require similar efforts, including coordinating with stakeholders; converting information-technology (IT) systems; conducting provider and beneficiary outreach and education; conducting training of business partners; and issuing new cards. While the level and type of modifications required to IT systems would vary under each option, the one involving use of a new identifier by both beneficiaries and providers would require somewhat more-extensive IT modifications. However, CMS has not committed to implementing any of the three options presented in its report. Nor did CMS consider other options in its 2011 report, such as how machine-readable technologies, including bar codes, magnetic stripes, or smart chips, could assist in the effort to remove SSNs from Medicare cards. CMS officials told us that they limited their options to those retaining the basic format of the current paper card, and did not consider options that they believed were outside the scope of the congressional request. Read More