Social Security numbers are used for just about everything--financial records, medical information, legal documents.
That’s why Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people age 65 and older, is taking the digits off the cards it distributes to enrollees, and replacing them with unique, randomized-11-digit IDs of both numbers and letters. Pennsylvania residents will be among the first affected by the change and they’ll receive the new cards between April and the end of June.
John Houston, vice president of information security and privacy at UPMC, said he has mixed feelings about the new IDs.
“If you think about what the Social Security number was intended to be, it was a way for the federal government to identify individuals for certain purposes, whether it be for Social Security benefits or other things,” said Houston.
In order to prevent these new numbers from being compromised, Houston said Medicare should be their only use.
Joanne Grossi, state president of AARP Pennsylvania, was a regional director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services back in 2015, when Congress mandated Medicare get rid of Social Security numbers on its cards. She said this change is a good move.
“If you lose your purse, if you lose your wallet,” said Grossi. “Frankly, every time you’re handing off that card to someone, or giving someone else that number, it just creates an opportunity.”
Grossi added that when people receive their new cards, they should make sure to shred or cut up the old ones. Also enrollees need to be careful to not confuse their Medicare Advantage Plans with Medicare.
"That's private health insurance, so you want to keep that card," she said. "Similarly if you have prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D, keep your card for that as well...that's separate insurance."
A note of caution: these cards are getting mailed out automatically. So, if someone calls to say they need personal information in order to send a new card, or requests cardholders pay a fee, you shouldn't respond; it's likely a scam.