BOSTON (CBS) – Q: The dentist insisted on having my child’s Social Security number and would not provide services unless the SSN was given to the office. Is it legal for a medical provider to refuse services to someone who will not give out their SSN?  I was told it was for billing purposes if the insurance didn’t pay the collection agency would need it.

A: I checked with my friends from Social Security and here is the answer they gave me:

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The Social Security Act is silent on the entire issue of private sector use of the Social Security Number (SSN).  Now, there are specific instances in the Statute where you are required to provide your SSN, for example filing an income tax return or enlisting in the military.  However, there is nothing in the law which prevents the dentist for asking for the child’s SSN, but there is also nothing which requires the listener to provide it.  However, there is also nothing which requires the dentist to treat the child if the parent refuses to do so.

It is really more of a common sense issue. The parent needs to find out why the dentist wants it and then decide if they really need to use the services of that particular dentist.

Here’s the answer from the Frequently Asked Questions on SSA’s website:

Legal requirements to provide your SSN

Updated 03/02/2012 12:51 PM | ID# 78

Must I provide a Social Security number (SSN) to any business or government agency that asks?

The SSN was originally devised to keep an accurate record of each individual’s earnings, and to subsequently monitor benefits paid under the Social Security program. However, use of the Social Security number as a general identifier has grown to the point where it is the most commonly used and convenient identifier for all types of record-keeping systems in the United States.

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Specific laws require a person to provide his or her SSN for certain purposes. While we cannot give you a comprehensive list of all situations where an SSN might be required or requested, an SSN is required or requested by the following organizations:

  • Internal Revenue Service for tax returns and federal loans;
  • Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes;
  • Employers enrolled in E-Verify;
  • States for the school lunch program;
  • Banks for monetary transactions;
  • Veterans Administration as a hospital admission number;
  • Department of Labor for workers’ compensation;
  • Department of Education for Student Loans;
  • States to administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or driver’s license law within its jurisdiction;
  • States for child support enforcement;
  • States for commercial drivers’ licenses;
  • States for Food Stamps;
  • States for Medicaid;
  • States for Unemployment Compensation;
  • States for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; or
  • U.S. Treasury for U.S. Savings Bonds

The Privacy Act regulates the use of SSNs by government agencies. When a federal, state, or local government agency asks an individual to disclose his or her SSN, the Privacy Act requires the agency to inform the person of the following: the statutory or other authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information.

If a business or other enterprise asks you for your SSN, you can refuse to give it. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service for which your number was requested. For example, utility companies and other services ask for an SSN, but do not need it; they can do a credit check or identify the person in their records by alternative means.

Giving your SSN is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you should ask why your SSN is needed, how your number will be used, what law requires you to give your number and what the consequences are if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number. The decision is yours.


You can hear Dee Lee’s expert financial advice on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 each weekday at 1:55 p.m., 3:55 p.m., and 7:55 p.m.

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