Medical supply companies, hospitals, imaging facilities, and other medical testing sites ask for Social Security numbers for a number of reasons. These reasons include;

  1. Verifying Your Identity

When you go to the hospital, pharmacy, or a medical supply store, you may be given a patient identifier, which is a number that identifies you within that healthcare system. However, once you leave that system and go to another place, you will be given a completely different number. Your Social Security number can be a way for these institutions to identify you in order to share your records for planning your medical care.

  1. Health Insurance

Also note that your healthcare provider and your health insurer often communicate about patients using a Social Security number as an identifier, as this number remains the same regardless of your job, the store where you get your prescriptions, or which physician you are seeing. Note that health practitioners may include your social security number on the bill that they send to your health insurer, and your health insurer may request it as a requirement for payment.

  1. Government Payers

Government-sponsored payers, such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran’s Administration, and TriCare also tend to require Social Security numbers in order to process healthcare payment requests.

  1. Guarantee of Payment

Have it in mind that some people simply do not pay their bills, and hospitals and medical stores often have little recourse if they can’t contact you. The SSN as the one universal identifier of all Americans gives healthcare providers the last-ditch means to collect on medical debt.

According to a report from the American Hospital Association, over $40 billion dollars in medical related bills are unpaid each year. This doesn’t include the unpaid bills to private practice physicians or other forms of non-hospital-based care. It is a huge problem that only serves to drive up healthcare costs nationwide.

What is a Social Security Number?

The Social Security Number (SSN) was established in 1936 for the sake of tracking an individual’s earnings and monitoring Social Security benefits paid to that individual. With time, the SSN became a tool for identification and authentication in both the government and the private sector, since it is a fixed identifier that is unique to each person.

Since organizations within the private sector have steadily leveraged SSNs in business and record keeping systems, the demand for the numbers by identity thieves have also grown. In response to rising identity theft concerns, many insurers have discontinued the use of SSNs as policy holder identification numbers. In today’s world, where it seems like identity theft is continuously on the rise, people are always expected to be careful in freely giving out their SSN.

Note that there are certain organizations that surely require it, such as the IRS (for tax returns and federal loans), employers (for wage and tax reporting purposes), banks (for certain monetary transactions), and states (for welfare benefits, government health care plans, such as Medicaid, etc.), just to name a few.

Medical providers are not such organizations, and since you know your insurance provider uses insurance policy numbers instead of SSNs, you know the supply company isn’t using it as a requirement of your insurer. Therefore, you don’t have to voluntarily give your SSN.

Additionally, there are no laws in the United States that makes it illegal for a medical supply company to ask for your SSN. They are permitted to use your number internally for identification verification or administrative purposes.

Also, if the company has a client’s social security number, it is easier to locate that patient and collect money owed; likewise, when a patient is deceased, having a social security number may make it easier for the medical provider to collect on unpaid bills. However, note that if you refuse to provide your SSN, the company can also refuse to schedule your appointment or provide services to you.

How to Protect Your Social Security Number

Indeed, it is not unreasonable for you to be worried about sharing your Social Security number with anyone, even a trusted family doctor. Every year in the United States, over two million people are victims of medical identity fraud, and some of these incidents occur because a person’s Social Security and insurance information were not properly secured.

While a medical doctor may be permitted to see you as a patient even if you refuse to provide your social security number, most pharmaceutical stores and diagnostic facilities require that you provide it unless you are in need of emergency medical care. However, if you feel uncomfortable providing your social security number, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft:

  1. Pay for your health care in cash up-front. In this case, your provider may agree to a service, but they may still refuse if they are concerned that they can’t get the correct medical records without verifying your identity.
  2. Provide your healthcare insurance card and your medical identification number, as well as access to your medical records. Note that this will reassure your provider that payment will be rendered and that the available medical records are accurate and up-to-date.
  3. Request that you offer your responses to these questions privately, away from the earshot of other patients or staff who may be nearby and who does not need to know this information.
  4. Ensure to track your medical bills and payments carefully. Create an online account with on your healthcare provider and/or your health insurer’s website so that you can follow up on all of your bills and payments.

Conclusion

Providing your SSN is completely voluntary, even when you are directly asked for it. If you are asked for your SSN and you are uncomfortable providing it, ensure to ask the following questions: (1) why do you need it? (2) How will you use it?

(3) What law requires me to provide it? And (4) what are the consequences if I refuse? Depending on the reason provided, see if a different type of information would serve the same purpose, and provide that information instead.

Joy Nwokoro