No, I am not kidding. Currently, your Social Security Number is effectively a national identifier. Except when it is not allowed to be used.
In many healthcare situations, they use first and last name plus birth date. Apparently, however, that is more than a bit error prone. This has led to treatment errors and medication errors.
When HIPAA was enacted, it mandated the creation of a Universal Patient Identifier (UPI). That has been stymied by a ban that has been put into the annual funding bills every year that bans the government from spending any money to do this.
So, instead, we use the Social Security Number as a de facto universal identifier.
Rep. Ron Paul initially and now Sen. Rand Paul have said that a national identifier is a threat to personal privacy. In a sense that is hard to argue with. On the other hand, Using the Social Security Number as a universal identifier for healthcare not only compromises medical information when there is a breach, but also a person’s financial information.
Some people say that stricter penalties for breaches, identity theft and other related crimes would reduce the abuse, but I am skeptical. After all, the war on drugs, which tried exactly that, is certainly stopping drug sales and use.
This year the House removed the ban from the funding bill but the Senate left it in.
Some places are using biometrics to help identify patients, but the use of biometrics represents a whole other raft of problems.
There is not a simple solution, but continuing to use your Social Security Number as a universal identifier is NOT the answer.
For more details, see the article in Health IT Security.