Removal of SSN from Medicare IDs Detailed in CMS Open Door Forum

January 23, 2017

On January 17, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held a Special Open Door Forum to detail how the Social Security Number Removal Initiative (SSNRI) impacts the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) community. CMS’s explanation is summarized below with Tower MSA’s thoughts on the practical implications of this change.

SSNRI Explained

Presently, Medicare beneficiaries are assigned a Healthcare Insurance Claim Number (HICN) which generally includes either their or their spouses Social Security Number (SSN) followed by a letter, commonly an A or B. For the purpose of reducing identify theft involving SSNs, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 included a provision requiring CMS to remove SSNs from all Medicare cards by April 2019.

In accordance with the Act, CMS announced that starting in April 2018 it will begin to issue what will be called Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBIs) to replace the HICNs currently in use. MBIs will be 11-alphanumeric characters in length with letters only in uppercase. The MBIs will be assigned to approximately 60 million current Medicare beneficiaries and 90 million deceased/archived Medicare beneficiaries. CMS targets completion of the assignment of MBIs by April 2019.

CMS advised there will be significant outreach to Medicare beneficiaries, medical providers, and other stakeholders, such as the Medicare Secondary Payer community, prior to implementation of this change.

CMS has a dedicated website regarding the SSNRI which may be found here.

SSNRI Impact on MSP Compliance

In regard to Medicare Secondary Payer compliance processes, the MSP compliance community currently exchanges data with CMS through Section 111 Mandatory Insurer Reporting, the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal (MSPRP) and the Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Portal (WCMSAP). CMS made the following statements concerning the SSNRI’s impact on this exchange of information:

• Fields presently identified as HICN will be retitled “Medicare ID.”
• As the HICN fields currently accept 11 characters there will be no expansion of these fields as a result of the implementation of MIBs.
• SSNs can continue to be used for querying whether a particular claimant is a Medicare beneficiary through the Section 111 Reporting process and for communication through the MSPRP and WCMSAP.
• Use of partial SSNs will continue to be permitted for querying Medicare eligibility.
• After April 2018 the CMS response to a Section 111 query will either provide the HICN or the MBI, depending upon whether the particular Medicare beneficiary has been issued an MBI.
• Outgoing documentation through the MSPRP or WCMSAP will include the HICN or MIB, depending upon what was most recently reported. For example, if an MSA is submitted to CMS for review through the WCMSAP and contains a HICN, then the response from CMS will include the HICN. On the other hand, if an MIB is submitted, then the CMS response will include the MIB.

Treasury Department to No Longer Include Medicare ID

Also announced during the forum is an impending change by the Treasury Department to no longer include the HICN (or the MIB when it becomes active) in its correspondence stemming from Medicare conditional payment recovery. Instead, the Treasury Department will only list the Case Recovery ID that has been assigned to the case by either the Benefits Coordination and Recovery Contractor (BCRC) or the Commercial Repayment Center (CRC). This change is expected to occur before the end of 2017.

Practical Implications

An important takeaway from CMS’s explanation of the SSNRI is that for MSP compliance purposes we can continue to use SSNs in communicating with CMS and its contractors. What we should recognize is that as of April 2018 besides SSNs, claimants may be providing MIBs rather than HICNs. Further, it should be recognized that the Section 111 query process may return an MIB, rather than an HICN, starting in April 2018.

Our Tower MSP Automation Suite will seamlessly transition to recognition and reporting of MBIs for Section 111 Reporting purposes starting in April 2019. We do recommend to our clients that they confirm their internal claims database will be fully capable of recognizing the MBIs when they become active for Medicare beneficiary claimants.

Finally, the Treasury Department’s removal of any Medicare beneficiary identifier from its conditional payment recovery correspondence may present some difficulty to workers’ compensation, liability and no-fault plans in identifying the particular claimant from which the demand stems. Tower MSA will work with our clients to address any uncertainty, but we also recommend to our clients that they work with us to actively resolve Medicare conditional payments on open and settling claims such that these demands never are referred to the Treasury Department.

If you have any questions regarding the SSNRI, please contact Tower MSA Partners Chief Compliance Officer, Dan Anders, at (847) 946-2880 or