As identity theft proliferates, the federal government is eliminating one potential threat with its plan to take Social Security numbers off Medicare cards.

The move was a long time coming and may still take years to implement, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), but the provision is in a law signed by President Obama in March.

The removal of Social Security numbers will make it harder for thieves to steal an elderly person’s identity, says U.S. Representative Sam Johnson of Texas, who has been a champion of this issue. The provision is included in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.

“Our seniors are some of the most vulnerable targets for identity theft, and I’m thankful this common-sense solution was finally signed into law--and you can rest assured that I’ll be keeping a close eye on the SSA to make sure they follow through,” says Johnson.

CMS encourages seniors to carry their Medicare cards with them at all times. Medicare officials have four years to stop using Social Security numbers on new cards. Existing card holders will be able to request a card without a Social Seucurity number printed on it, says Johnson's office. Congress authorized $320 million for the change.