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Are You Exposing Your SSN?

Protecting Your SSN on HIPAA FormsOne of the questions we hear often from practitioners is, "Should I really be entering my Social Security Number into the insurance forms and billing statements that clients will be able to see?"  If you want to be affiliated with an insurance panel either as a in-network or out-of-network provider, this is a potentially critical decision that you will have to consider.  A few things to factor in when making this decision are:  1) what has your attorney or accountant advised you to do?; 2) are you okay with everyone at the insurance company seeing your Social Security Number (SSN)?; 3) even if you are okay with everyone at the insurance company seeing your number, are you comfortable with your number being listed on the Explanation of Benefits for your clients to see?; 4) have you taken into consideration that your cash-paying clients who request statements for insurance reimbursement will need a statement with your number listed?    

As a alternative to using your SSN, you may want to consider applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  An EIN, also known as a Tax Identification Number (TIN), Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN), Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), or Tax ID, is the business legal equivalent to your personal SSN.  Many private practitioners see the name "Employee Identification Number " and assume that it means you have to have employees to qualify, but this is not true.  Even if you have set up your business as a "Sole Proprietor" and you operate without employees, you may still apply for an EIN.  Using an EIN for tax and insurance claim filing will protect your personal SSN from becoming public knowledge, and therefore protect you from potential identity theft.

How do you go about getting an EIN and using your EIN on your insurance panels?  Getting your EIN is easy and will take you less than five minutes if you use the online application on www.irs.gov.  Once you complete the application, you will receive your new EIN instantly.  If you have a new practice and you are just getting started with submitting your paperwork to insurance companies, you will want to submit all of your paperwork to the insurance panels using your new EIN.  If your original business plan was to use your SSN, change your plan now!  Spending a few minutes to get your EIN today will save you from the additional steps of trying to transition to an EIN later.   

If you have an established practice, and you are already using your personal SSN, you will want to notify the insurance companies of the new EIN.  Every insurance panel will have different requirements, so you will want to contact each panel to determine the appropriate process involved to make the transition.  This will be time-consuming, but well worth the effort to protect your personal identification.  Here are a few points to keep in mind as you move toward the switch from using your SSN to using your EIN:

  • Contact each insurance panel to learn about their specific requirements.
  • You may have to sign a new provider contract.  Even though you are an established in-network provider, your EIN is new to the insurance panel. 
  • Find out if you will have to obtain a new NPI number to correspond to your new EIN.  As a sole proprietor, you most likely currently have an Entity Type 1 NPI number that identifies you as an individual provider under your SSN, but you may now need  an Entity Type 2 NPI number, or group NPI, for your EIN and for billing purposes.  This is especially true if you also decide to change your business structure from a "Sole Proprietor" to an LLC or other business entity.     
  • Follow up with the insurance companies to make sure they have updated their records correctly with your new EIN and ask them to remove or deactivate your SSN. 
  • When you do make the switch, avoid billing payment delays by making sure your billing information matches that which each insurance company has on file.  Specifically, make sure that the insurance companies show all of the numbers as you do for "Rendering Provider ID#", "Billing Provider Info", and the "Federal Tax ID Number" as your EIN.
  • Expect the change to take up to a month before you can officially begin using the new EIN.
  • Be prepared for your billing claims to take longer than normal during this transition.  You may even encounter denied claims throughout this period.  (Hopefully, this can be avoided by following up and confirming with the insurance companies ahead of time.)
  • Keep detailed records of all emails, phone calls, and faxes to each of the insurance companies.

 

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