J will turn 65 in a few months and, in a rite of passage sort of like high school graduation, he received his Medicare card. (He has also been receiving Medicare supplement advertising by mail, and now follow-up phone calls. We expect to receive the ads for durable medical equipment soon, as well.) But back to the card. There, front and slightly-below-center, is his full Social Security number. The number we're admonished never to give to anyone. That one. The one that identity thieves spend lots of time trying to get. The one that enables them to get credit cards in your name and make purchases you would make if you could afford them.
But it gets worse. J is supposed to carry the card with him at all times. It's his proof of insurance when we're traveling. Can't you see the identity thieves right now? Gauging the age of the potential victim? Grabbing the purse or wallet and, having discarded the library card and Justice League of America membership, looking with delight at the Medicare Card. Oh the joy!
I thought about calling my Congressperson. Or my Senators. But then I read up on the Internet and found that they and everyone else already knew about it. It's become a frequent discussion in the blogosphere, as bloggers approach their 65th birthday and receive their cards. In fact, legislation has been proposed that would fix the problem, giving Medicare recipients a number that isn't their Social Security number. But this obvious, common sense legislation has failed. Yeah, failed, because Medicare doesn't want to spend the money. (Medicare says it would cost $800 million, but the GAO claims that figure is hooey.)
There's good reason to do it now though. As more and more people become eligible for Medicare, it will become more expensive the fix the problem. And it will have to be fixed. Seniors don't have anything to do. They vote. They write letters to their legislators. And at lunch down at the Senior Center, they'll discuss the latest theft over their pudding. It won't be pretty.
Meanwhile, to protect themselves, Medicare recipients should do the following: xerox the front and back of the card. Cut out the copies to wallet size. Then cut out (not ink out, as someone could hold the card up to the light and read the numbers) the last four numbers of your card. Tape or staple the two sides together, put the original card in a safe place, and carry the copy.
As I trekked across the Internet, I also found that this will protect you from some Medicare frauds. Various fraudsters will steal your number and charge Medicare for treatments, equipment and the like that you don't want and never ordered. And it may take a long time to catch these people, during which time they are getting paid for your non-treatment.