Why Doctors and Hospitals Ask for Your Social Security Number

Sharing the information is not always necessary

woman filling out forms at doctor's office
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Most healthcare providers will ask you for your Social Security number when you are seeking medical care. They often require this so that they can collect payment for healthcare services and verify your identity when it comes to looking up your health records.

You may be concerned about identity theft, and protecting your Social Security number is part of that concern.

Why Your Healthcare Provider Requests Your Social Security Number

Doctors, hospitals, imaging facilities, and other medical testing sites ask for Social Security numbers for a number of reasons.

Health insurance: 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 hospital where you get care, or which physician you are seeing. Doctors 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.

Government payers: Government sponsored payers, such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran's Administration, and TriCare all require Social Security numbers in order to process healthcare payment requests.

Guarantee of payment: Some people simply do not pay their bills, and hospitals and doctors often have little recourse if they can't contact you. As the one universal identifier of all Americans, Social Security numbers give health care providers the last-ditch means to collect on a medical debt.

According to a report from the American Hospital Association, over $40 billion dollars in hospital 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 an enormous problem that only serves to drive up healthcare costs nationwide.

If you can't pay your medical bills, it is better for you to make arrangements for payment, health insurance coverage, or to obtain government-sponsored coverage rather than going into debt and getting sent to a debt collector.

Verifying your identity: When you go to the hospital or doctor, 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 hospital, you will be given a completely different number. Your Social Security number can be a way for doctors and hospitals to identify you in order to share your records for planning your medical care.

Medical Identity Theft

As a consumer, it is not unreasonable for you to be worried about sharing your Social Security number with anyone, even a trusted family doctor. Each year, over two million people are victims of medical identity fraud in the U.S., and some of these incidents occur because a person's Social Security and insurance information aren't properly secured.

While your doctor may be permitted to see you as a patient even if you refuse to provide your social security number, most hospitals and diagnostic facilities require that you provide it unless you are in need of emergency medical care.

If you are uncomfortable providing your social security number, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Pay for your healthcare in cash upfront. In this instance, 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.
  • Provide your healthcare insurance card and your medical identification number, as well as access to your medical records. This will reassure your provider that payment will be rendered and that the available medical records are accurate and up-to-date.
  • Request that you provide your responses to these questions privately, away from the earshot of other patients or staff who may be nearby and who do not need to know this information.
  • 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.

A Word From Verywell

Under the law, doctors cannot refuse to treat a person for ethnic, racial, or religious reasons. Nor can a doctor discriminate based on a person's sex or sexual orientation. Outside of these protected areas, providers and hospitals are not required to accept a patient, and they are permitted to have policies that decrease the chances that a patient will not pay their medical bill.

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