We just completed a month long CompNewsNetwork Pulse Poll on the use of Social Security numbers on workers' compensation forms. As part of my ongoing editorializing on the subject, we wanted to know how people in the industry felt about the issue. It appears, overall, that they agree with me; social security numbers should not be used on forms within the workers' compensation industry. However, there were some interesting trends discovered as well.
This was not a scientific poll, and as with all “Pulse Polls”, it was short and to the point. There were 360 respondents overall.
To the question, “Should Social Security Numbers be removed from all workers' compensation forms used after the First Notice of Injury?”, a significant majority, 62.9%, answered affirmatively. 34.5% said no, that the use of these numbers should continue. Interestingly, though, when asked “How critical or important do you think this issue is?”, a whopping 91% of respondents said that it was “Very Important” or “Somewhat Important”. The percentages on those were 69.8% and 21.6% respectively.
So even though 34.5% of respondents did not think the SS numbers should be removed from forms, the vast majority still thought it an important issue. In fact, looking at those 34.5% alone, 65% said it was a “Very Important” issue, and 17.5% declared it “Somewhat Important”. 10% were neutral and 5% said it was “Not Very Important”. Only 2.5% of those participants said it was “Not Very Important At All”.
So, for them, it is a very important issue, we just apparently shouldn't change the way we are doing things.
Even more telling were responses to the question regarding voluntary use of these numbers. Several states have made attempts at reducing the dependence on social security numbers by allowing their inclusion to be voluntary. Some of those states instruct those completing the form that they do not have to include an injured workers' social security number, but “failing to do so may slow the processing of this form”. My contention has been that this is not a good solution. I have argued that, since we are an industry where there can be significant financial penalties for delays in treatment or benefits, people will ignore that option and enter the IW's social to expedite the form. The poll tells me, in an unscientific way, of course, that I am right.
To the question, “If a workers' compensation form tells you that the Social Security Number is voluntary, but failing to provide one will delay processing, do you generally or most often still enter the SSN?”, 59.5% told us they would still enter the number on the form. 23.3% said they would not, and a significant percentage, 17.2%, chose not to answer the question. Here again we found interesting anomalies. Looking solely at the people who told us that the social security number use on forms should be stopped, 53.4% indicated they still enter those numbers in voluntary situations. There was only a slight uptick in non-respondents among this group, with 19.2% choosing not to answer the question.
So even though 97% of those specific participants feel that this is a very important or somewhat important issue, more than half continue to use the numbers even when they are not required. In fact, when we looked at only those who said this was a very important issue, the use of numbers in voluntary situations ACTUALLY INCREASED, to 59.3%. That was not materially different from those people who said this issue was not important. That “not important” group was at 60% for voluntary use.
I suspect this is because, in the end, these are other people's social security numbers at risk, not our own, and the threat of delay (and its financial consequences) is too great to ignore.
I thought the results of this poll were very interesting. It tells us that an overwhelming majority of people in the industry think the widespread dependence on social security numbers is a problem; but ultimately it is someone else's problem. The input we saw tells us that the onus is truly on regulators and legislators to change the culture surrounding this issue. We are an industry of process and habits, and when it comes to social security numbers, “this is the way we've always done it.”
Over 21% of workers' comp jurisdictional forms (781), contain a field for the full social security number of injured workers. As I've written previously, this creates unacceptable exposure for identity theft for these people. We need to change, and this poll tells us that without direction from the top, that simply is not going to happen.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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