I received another email while on vacation last week from BJ Dernbach, Division Administrator for the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Department of Workforce Development. It was just a courtesy email informing me that he and his staff had acted on one of the suggestions made in last Monday’s article regarding the voluntary status of social security number provision on most Wisconsin forms. Following Massachusetts example for an identical policy, his agency has added an asterisk in the SSN field on the 25 applicable forms to more adequately highlight the policy on voluntary use of those numbers.

It is a positive gesture worthy of notation. In the long-term goal for national eradication of our dependency on this identifier, it doesn’t exactly move the needle, but it does make it twitch a bit. It also shows what I have said about most regulators over the years. Given the opportunity of open dialogue and shared information, many administrators and their agencies can and will be responsive in improving the system within the extent of their authority.

Of course, having a blogger completely misrepresent your policy also helps.

Wisconsin appears to be one of those states where the dependence on the use and dissemination of social security numbers is statutorily driven. As best that I can tell, the agency cannot change its underlying use of the number without the active involvement of the Wisconsin legislature. Like other states in the same situation, that will be a much harder battle to wage. Still, given the current trends in identity theft, legislators will be responsive if they can be made aware of the problem. It is an issue that seems to be carrying some weight within our industry.

Our current (unscientific) CompNewsNetwork Pulse Poll is looking at opinions within workers’ compensation regarding the use and management of social security numbers on jurisdictional forms. Current results of the three-question survey, which is still open and may be accessed here, tell us that most people would like to see the use of these numbers stopped. 57% believe that the numbers should be removed from all workers’ compensation forms used after the First Notice of Injury. 71.4% label this as a “very important” issue. Interestingly, among the people who did not believe the number should be removed, 71.5% of respondents to date still labeled this as a “somewhat or very” important issue.

The current poll results are also confirming my suspicions about the effectiveness of voluntary submission policies. When asked, “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?”, fully two-thirds (66.7%) of respondents have indicated they do provide the number. 

After all, it is generally not the form submitters social security number at risk. If we were talking about their personal numbers, I suspect the results would be different.

I encourage you to take 2 minutes and give us your opinion on the matter. As I indicated, the poll may be accessed here. It will be live for a couple more weeks.

In the interim, we can take the actions of the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Department of Workforce Development as a positive sign that positive change can happen on this front. As deeply embedded and entrenched as our dependence on the social security number is in our industry, at this point I am more than happy to see that needle twitch just a little bit. It shows us that with persistence and consistent effort, we can get this done.

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