Does your Doctor really need your Social Security Number?

by Justin Weinger on March 9, 2015

It happens every time you go to see your family physician, or to the emergency room (which hopefully happens less frequently). You’re filling out a ream of paper work and you come to the space where those nine extremely important digits that make up your Social Security number need to be filled in.

The question is, should you fill them in and, even more importantly, do you need to?

The answer depends on a couple of things but, in the case of your doctor or a hospital, it’s no. First, the main reason they want your Social Security number is that, should you fail to pay your bill, they can send a debt collection agency after you to try and recoup it. Frankly, you’re not under any obligation to give your Social Security number to either one, even if you’re going to be using insurance. The reason is simple; your insurance company identifies you through a subscriber number, not your Social Security number.

But why wouldn’t you want to give them your Social Security number, especially if you plan on paying off your bill? That’s another simple reason; most healthcare providers don’t have the security necessary to protect your Social Security number from identity thieves. Even worse is that, if their system is hacked (which happened to Anthem, Inc. in 2014) the thieves not only have your Social Security number but also medically sensitive information.

The easiest thing to do when you visit your family doctor or go to the hospital is simply to leave the Social Security number part blank. Many times the doctor’s staff or hospital staff won’t even notice but, if they do, just explain that you’re concerned about hackers and identity thieves and don’t reveal your Social Security number unless it’s required by law.

But what about Medicare

if you are on Medicare and using it when you visit the doctor or the hospital, you don’t have a choice. You have to share your Social Security number because that’s also your Medicare ID number. In fact, you probably already know that it’s printed on your Medicare card. (That’s a problem that hopefully will be remedied this year by the Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act).

So yes, you have to give your Social Security number if you’re using Medicare, but what you can do is make a copy of your original Medicare card and then store the original card somewhere at home in a safe place. Then take the copy and black-out all of the digits except for the last four of Social so that, if your wallet or purse is stolen, thieves won’t have access to your entire number and thus won’t be able to use it.

Okay, what about Insurance Companies

Whether you get your insurance from your employer or you’re using Obamacare, they do have the right to ask for your Social Security number. Group plan insurance companies are backed by the Mandatory Insurer Reporting laws from the federal government, while the Affordable Care Act can ask for the Social Security numbers of everyone living in your household.


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