Keeping my SSN private
July 4, 2005 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I have a new health care provider via a state-sponsored program. They use my social security number as my ID number. What is the most effective way to fight this?

It is on the health care ID card I am pretty much required to carry. I have to write it on the checks I use to pay my premiums. It's on every bill and statement I get. I would prefer to not use my SSN as an identifying number, not so much that I will forego health care, but enough that I be willing to try fairly hard to get them to change their mind. I'm not against giving them my SSN, I know why that is important, I just don't want to have to carry it in my wallet or write it on my checks. It seems that in this day and age requiring people to do that is a bad idea though not, as many people have told me now, illegal. Here is what I have done so far.

- I called my provider and asked them for an alternative number, and they said no. This has worked in the past with all of my other health care providers, including state insurance in other states. I asked to speak to a manager there and was told my request would be sent to a manager who would get back to me if there was anything they could do.
- I contacted the state heath care agency who gave me two weeks' worth of back and forth before saying "It's policy to use it, we need to have it to ID you" which I think was missing the point I was trying to make, but follow-up emails were not returned.
- I contacted the state health care omsbudsman who said if I had a religious objection, I could get an alternate number. I do not have a religious objection and am somewhat opposed to claiming I have one. However, this implies that there is a mechanism for providing alternate numbers.

So, I'm wavering between contacting one of my elected officials by phone [state senator or maybe Congressmen], trying to arrange a meeting with an administrator at the health care agency, or going the letter to the editor route. I'm tenacious, but I'd like to work towards results, not just idle fist-shaking.

I was wondering if anyone has experience fighting the use of their SSN in similar ways and what worked for you -- both resource-wise and who-to-contact-wise -- and what was lesss useful.
posted by jessamyn to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would think that your next step would be to contact your state senator or even the governor. If that route fails, then shine the light of public scrutiny on the issue via a letter to the editor (or, contacting the local TV station).
posted by MegoSteve at 2:27 PM on July 4, 2005

I'm also interested in the answer to this question, particularly in regard to signing up for new service with companies that ask for your SSN. What are the best ways to avoid giving the SSN to people who clearly only use it as a unique record ID without really needing it?

MegoSteve, it seems like most people, at least in my experience, don't really understand what's wrong with having your SSN on every piece of paper you own. It seems this is a result of being constantly asked for the number for even the most mundane things. So, I'd be very surprised if the local TV station took up such a cause, seeing as how it isn't very exciting or meaningful to many people.
posted by odinsdream at 2:43 PM on July 4, 2005

I once found mine posted on a bulletin board in the public office of a parking garage I was paying to park in, right next to my name and license plate number. Of course I made them take it down.

But if the health plan is state sponsored, I doubt there's much you can do about their requirements. I just signed up to work for UCSF and there were places where a couple paragraphs of legalese, referencing US Code, smugly informed me that I could either yield up my SSN, or here's where I could stick it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:48 PM on July 4, 2005

My health insurance uses SSN as default ID numbers....I just tell them (and whoever else asks for an SSN) "I don't have one." They manage.
posted by duck at 2:53 PM on July 4, 2005

OK, well I just pulled out my SS card and it says on the back: "Any Federal, State, or local government agency that asks for your number must tell you: whether giving it is mandatory or voluntary, its authority for requesting the number, and how the number will be used."

I would imagine they have to produce some sort of written detailed informationo on this (more than "It will be your ID number"). So making them jump through hoops to get it may make them decide that it's easier to just give you an ID number.
posted by duck at 2:57 PM on July 4, 2005

I say the first thing to try is call them back and ask to speak to a manager, and don't get off the phone until you do.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:10 PM on July 4, 2005

For what it's worth, I already have a card with them, with my SSN on it, so this is more of an after-the-fact correction than a resistance campaign. It honestly didn't occur to me that they would give me a card with my name and SSN on it in large black numerals/letters. Naive, I know.
posted by jessamyn at 3:49 PM on July 4, 2005

jessamyn, I'm glad you want to do this, and wish I had sooner than I did. My wallet was stolen out of my purse last year, and the only thing on it that had my SS# on it was my company health card. Because of this, I had to take far more precautions than otherwise, including buying an expensive credit monitoring service. Afterwards, I went to my HR dept. and asked them for a card with an alternative ID. They were not equipped to provide it at the time, but fortunately, they provide new cards yearly and I caught them right around the time they were prepping for that. After hearing my story, they switched to the alternate ID form.

So, the best plan might be to talk to a highly placed program manager, as others suggest, and focus on educating the person about the issue. Discuss it, follow up in writing, and it wouldn't hurt to cc your state representative to show your seriousness. I found this link on ID theft from your state law enforcement that guides people to use non-SS# IDs on their driver's licenses. I would cite that, because if one arm of government advocates not using the SS#, then it's obviously a huge contradiction for another to fail to follow suit. I'm sure there's plenty of other state law and policy that you could librarian-fu up to support your point.

If this fails to work, your state employs thousands of people, and if you can get any them interested in this, you'll have strength in numbers. How do other library staff feel about this? People working at the universities? In law enforcement? If you could contact union or other professional reps from such groups, I'm sure you could get some help.

Finally, I disagree that local media wouldn't be interested. There's been plenty of national media coverage on this, so there's a ton of stuff easily available to any journalist who wants to pursue this story. As I mentioned, the state employs so many people that there's a large audience ready-made for this story. If all else fails, I bet you could get media help -- though the cautious, careerist side of me says that really should be the very last resort lest it harm you professionally. I wish you good luck! It's hard to believe that anyone, much less a state government, uses the damn things as ID anymore.
posted by melissa may at 3:55 PM on July 4, 2005

That is ridiculous.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 4:09 PM on July 4, 2005

I used to work at a large (Fortune 500) company which managed health insurance, and while we did use the SSN at the time we were working on a transition to uniquely-issued ID numbers (ironically, our emloyee health plan had already done this). We also ensured that the SSN was never sent out in full on any document -- when it needed to appear, the first five digits would be blanked out (e.g., 'Account number XXX-XX-1234').

Although there is no federal law requiring this, it's quickly becoming standard practice in the industry. So if your insurer isn't transitioning, make noise and get other people to do likewise; it can and will have an effect.

And if you can't get the company to change, get the local law to change; California, for example, has been phasing in regulartions which severely limit the use of Social Security numbers, including a provision which seems to forbid their use on health-insurance ID cards.
posted by ubernostrum at 4:51 PM on July 4, 2005

Obviously not a solution, but a temporary hack to relieve pain - black out the SSN on your card. It seems as though whenever anyone will need it, they'll ask. I do this with my health care plan who puts my SSN on my bill and asks that I write it on the check. I don't write it on the check and I blackie through the SSN on the bill. They always figure it out.
posted by sled at 5:36 PM on July 4, 2005

There was legislation (H.B. 446) in your state (Vermont) that seems to have died in committee, which would have prohibited, among other things, "printing an SSN on an identification card used by a consumer to access goods or services". You might want to find out who the committee chair was, and write him/her a letter to ask why this bill, which would help prevent identity theft, did not leave his/her committee.

This seems to be a state matter; I wouldn't bother your congressfolk, if I were you.

You might also consider (a) contacting the state agency that contracted with the insurance provider, to ask them if their contract directed, permitted, or prohibited the insurance company to/from using SSNs as identification numbers. A letter to the agency head, after you find out a bit, requesting that this and other contracts FORBID the use of SSNs as identification numbers, with a cc to the CEO of the insurance agency, might stir things up a bit.

Finally, I recommend NOT using "identity theft" rather than "privacy" as a mantra, and maybe even saying something like "I am not sure if the law would support my suing the state and/or [name of insurance company] should an identity theft be due to this use of my SSN. However, if my identification card were stolen and that were to play a part in subsequent financial fraud, both the agency and [name of insurance company] would be at least partly responsible."
posted by WestCoaster at 6:07 PM on July 4, 2005

My religion is privacy.

Seriously, one should accord deeply-held briefs the same respect one accords religion, even if those deeply held beliefs don't involve invisible bearded men who live in the sky or Revelations about tattooed numbers.

A Jehovah's Witness can claim a religious reason to affirm rather than swear an oath; shouldn't I, as an atheist, be accorded the same sanctity of belief?

Claim the religious exemption. When they ask you "what religion is this that you follow" tell them that you're an American and it's none of their business.
posted by orthogonality at 5:24 AM on July 5, 2005

« Older Headline, Question.   |   Finding chocolate dipped strawberries... ? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.