And then I got a big surprise!
I realized that, prominently displayed on the front of the card, was my Social Security Number!
It made sense. That's the same number the Social Security Administration assigns to my Medicare account for the many years I've paid in my withholding taxes.
But placing that Medicare card in my wallet - - along with my driver's license, credit cards, and bank ATM card - - would mean that any unscrupulous person who may grab or come into possession of my wallet would instantly have "won the lottery!" With all the information provided on those items, an identity thief could not only steal money from my accounts and withdraw cash against my credit cards, but could also obtain loans and even redirect my Social Security payments or file fraudulent Medicare claims!
I began to wonder, how could the Medicare authorities foolishly allow my Social Security Number to be given away like that on my card. After all, with baby boomers like me now entering their retirement years, over 10,000 Americans are enrolling in Medicare every day!
So I did a little research
The federal government has, in fact, taken enormous steps to protect the public from identity theft. It has previously outlawed the appearance of your Social Security Number on health insurance cards, driver's licenses and VA benefits cards, and has made it more difficult to access doctor and hospital medical records that may contain your Social Security Number.
I also found out that Congress has been trying to fix this Medicare card problem for well over 10 years and finally did something about it with "The Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015", signed into law by President Obama. The Department of Health and Human Services was directed to no longer issue Medicare cards that display, code or imbed your Social Security Number.
But here's the Catch...
Due to the massive amount of work involved for Medicare to assign everyone a new, random number, correct its database and print and send out new cards, they were given until 2019 to issue modernized cards to new Medicare recipients - - and until 2023 to issue new cards to existing Medicare recipients!
So until new cards are issued, how do you protect yourself?
According to the AARP and the Privacy Rights Clearing House, here's what you should do:
- Make a color photocopy of your Medicare card and cut it down to wallet size
- Remove (cut out or blackout) the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number. (Note: other fraud experts say you should remove all except the last 4 digits, because they already appear on many bank and credit card statements, and if you display the first digits on your Medicare card then the identity thief has your entire number. Maybe you should just remove the whole number from your Medicare card!)
- Place the "fixed" Medicare card in your wallet and keep the original in a safe place where you can access it if needed. (Sometimes the original will be requested if you have a first time visit to a new health care provider; but if you're rushed to a hospital in an emergency, health care can't be refused merely because you don't have your original card, though it may be required upon checkout).
What else is in your wallet?
I've seen many people keep in their wallets some other items that fraud artists would love to get a hold of. Don't keep your Social Security card in your wallet! And, if you're not going to use them right away, don't keep blank checks or bank deposit slips in your wallet either! Worst yet, don't keep in your wallet a "cheat sheet" containing your bank and credit card passwords or PINs, or passwords for online banking or other sensitive web portals!
Forget what that old American Express commercial used to say. When it comes to your Medicare card (and these other items), "do leave home without it"!