Demanding the SSN

September 1, 2004

Can we require patients to give us their Social Security number? We use it as a patient identifier.

Question: Can we require patients to give us their Social Security number? We use it as a patient identifier.

Answer: In some limited circumstances, you may need the Social Security number. For example, some states require it for Medicaid billing. However, if you simply like the ease of the number for internal purposes, patients are within their rights to refuse to give it to you. In fact, given the rates of identity theft these days, they have good reason not to give it out to just anyone who asks for it.

You may refuse to treat patients who won't provide the number - provided you meet other rules regarding patient abandonment. However, why get nasty? If a patient doesn't want to give you his Social Security number, just assign him an arbitrary nine-digit number as a patient identifier.

For more detailed information on when you can and can't require a Social Security number, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10002.html.