Feb 12, 2015

Do you need to give your doctors your Social Security number?

Anthem, the nation's second largest health insurance company, was recently hacked. Cyber-thiefs got away with millions of Social Security numbers, employment information and other personal data. Anthem is the umbrella for insurers including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Amerigroup and Healthlink. 

Every day, with every new corporate data breach, there is more reason to be genuinely concerned about the integrity of our personal data. Most troubling of all is the theft of Social Security numbers, for they are truly the "key to the kingdom" for anyone who wants to steal your identity.

How ironic, then, that doctors' offices and other health care providers still routinely ask patients to supply their Social Security numbers. HIPAA (the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) sets forth protocols that providers must follow to protect patient privacy, and most offices adhere zealously to those rules. In fact, I always include a HIPAA waiver in certain documents because without it, an individual's authorized agents can hit a brick wall if they need to get the client's medical information from health care providers.

Why then do so many doctors and other providers still ask for your Social Security number? According to a recent article in Consumer Reports, there's no logical reason. Consumers advises that you don't give it out. If your health care provider pressures you to do so, politely inform the office that you will do so only if there is a compelling legal reason it is needed.

Of course, if you are a Medicare recipient, you don't have that option, since your Medicare number IS your Social Security number. Your health insurer, too, has a right to the number, since it must be reported to the federal government in order to combat fraud and duplicate payments.

Let's hope that as the months and years roll on, security controls start keeping pace with our ever-expanding technologies. Until then, you cannot be too careful. 

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