Dear Liz: Is there an alternative to having my Social Security number as my Medicare number? This seems to fly in the face of all we have been taught as to keeping our financial identifiers secret.
Answer: More than half the states have banned the use of Social Security numbers on health insurance cards, but those laws don’t apply to the federal Medicare program. Unless Congress acts to change the federal law, you’re stuck with having your Social Security number as your Medicare identifier.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends you protect yourself from identity theft by making a copy of your Medicare card and using a black marker to cross out the last four digits of your Social Security number, or cutting out the last digits with scissors. Then you could carry that version of your card, so that if your wallet is stolen the thief doesn’t have access to your full number. You would still need to bring your original card the first time you visit any new healthcare provider, but you wouldn’t have to carry it with you all the time.