What Is a Health Insurance Claim Number?

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Former president Harry Truman received the very first health insurance claim number on July 30, 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare program into law. Since that time, everyone entering the Medicare program gets a HIC. The two-part number is used for identification and to confirm eligibility.

Assigning Party

The majority of HICs are assigned by the Social Security Administration. This scope includes wage earners and beneficiaries eligible for Social Security benefits as well as wage earners such as federal employees, who are not eligible. The Railroad Retirement Board assigns HICs to wage earners receiving Railroad Retirement Benefits. Regardless of who assigns the number, however, a HIC is always displayed in the “Medicare Claim Number” section of a Medicare card.

Claim Account Number

The first part of a HIC is the Claim Account Number. Although the CAN is always a nine-digit Social Security number, it isn’t always the number of the person holding the card. Instead, the CAN is the SSN of the wage earner qualifying for Medicare. For example, the CAN for a stay-at-home spouse will be the wage earning spouse’s SSN. If the person was eligible for Medicare benefits under her own earnings, however, the CAN will be her own SSN.

Beneficiary Identification Code

The second part of a HIC is a Beneficiary Identification Code. The code is a combination of one-to-two letters and/or numbers that identify the relationship a cardholder has to the qualifying wage earner. As of publication date there are about 150 different codes. Although the CAN never changes, the BIC will change if the relationship to a wage earner changes. For example, if the wife of a wage earner becomes a widow, the letter code will change from “B” to “D” to reflect the change in status (Reference 1 and Reference 3).


The HIC for a railroad worker will appear in a different format if the worker gets Medicare benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board rather than the Social Security Administration. The alternate format displays “Railroad Retirement Board” at the top of the card instead of “Medicare Health Insurance.” In the claim numbers section the BIC code will be displayed first, followed by the CAN. This is simply a difference in format, however, and has no effect on Medicare benefits or on how the HIC is used.