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    Why You Should Never Carry Your Insurance Card With You! - plus - CHALLENGE AUTHORITY If/When Someone Asks For Your Social Security Number!! - plus - Memory Lapses = Privacy
    February 21, 2002

    Dear Ben: You said on your radio show last week that we should never carry our Social Security Number [card] in our wallets/purse in attempt to prevent identity theft and if our Social Security Number's on an insurance card, we shouldn't carry that either. You're WRONG! I'd better have that card with me...if there's an emergency, I've got to have proof of insurance coverage! (And my Social Security Number is on the Medicare card I faithfully carry in my wallet.)

    John in Los Angeles


    Dear John: No, YOU'RE WRONG, John! You're setting yourself up for a bigger set of problems if (when) you lose a wallet containing your Social Security Number (SSN) through either carelessness or theft. If you're going in for a routine medical appointment (or scheduled surgery), take your insurance card with you so you'll be able to jump through the assorted insurance verification hoops easier. Your "emergency need" scenario doesn't hold water: State law requires emergency health care providers to admit and treat you, regardless of your ability to pay. If you should ever end up in an Emergency Room without your precious insurance card, I'll bet by the time you're discharged the business department will gladly process your insurance information. I suspect there's a much greater chance of having your identity stolen than requiring proof of insurance under emergency circumstances.

    Dose of Dover For The Week: I was sick a couple of weeks ago and my personal physician of the last two decades was nowhere to be found; he'd taken a poorly-timed (for me, anyway) vacation, leaving me with only one solution: Engage the services of a "Doc-in-the-Box," one of those retail storefront/no appointment necessary establishments that provide medical services to people facing similar circumstances. Since I'm temporarily without health insurance coverage, I was fully prepared to pay cash for my quick visit with the doctor. So far, so good...until I filled out the Patient Intake Questionnaire. "I'm sorry Mr. Dover, but we'll need your Social Security Number" the 20-something receptionist-in-an-official-looking-white-smock told me. "Why? There's no insurance filing necessary; it's a no insurance/no heartburn deal. I'm not applying for credit...I'm paying cash!" I fired back. "I'm sorry, sir. Company policy requires that I gather this information; our computer must have a SSN in order for us to allow the doctor to see you" she naively replied. "Oh, well that's different! Let me fill in the blanks for you; we don't want to violate company policy now, do we?" I replied, and proceeded to give her the information necessary to remove the only obstacle standing between me and medical care...kinda.

    I scrawled a 9-digit number that was close to my actual SSN; perhaps I "accidentally" transposed the last couple of digits...my memory tends to fade with my advancing (I'll be 44 in April) years. The moral of this story? It's none of their damned business what my SSN is. As mentioned earlier, this was an insurance claim-free transaction; I never asked them for an extension of credit, in fact I'm even one of the good guys: I'm paying cash, on the spot, no less! I don't care what their company policy is, I'm not going to let an inanimate, soul-less machine like a computer and a neophyte clerk extort the most precious 9-digit number (to me, anyway) out of me that easily.

    There are two morals to this story. Number One: Don't ever give up your SSN without questioning the reasons for the request. While there are legitimate needs for disclosure of this information, I urge you to challenge authority. Don't just roll over and give it up without a fight! The SSN is the magic key that can unlock your most private and sensitive information.

    Dover's Second Rule: Always take the path of least resistance. Instead of attempting to convince the clerk at the Doc-in-the-Box that she had no legal right to have my SSN, I simply gave her "a number." I was sick, I was tired, and I was in mood to fight with someone that had little (okay, zero) knowledge about the bigger picture in the world of SSNs/privacy/personal information. I threw her a 9-digit bone, paid my $89, got my prescriptions and left.

    No harm.
    No foul.

    Case closed.
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