If you’re one of the 55 million participants in Medicare – or a caregiver to someone who is – you’ll need to be on the lookout for a new Medicare card. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will mail new identification cards beginning in April 2018. The mailing process will occur in waves and will continue for a year.
Why Do We Need New Medicare Cards?
The new Medicare ID cards are designed to help prevent identity theft. The number on the current card (called a Health Insurance Claim Number, or HICN) is the participant’s Social Security number. In the hands of an unscrupulous person, a Social Security number can open the door to identity theft. That’s why CMS will replace the old numbers with new ones called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI).
The new cards will be distributed to Medicare beneficiaries and to people who are eligible for Medicare through the Railroad Retirement Board’s pension plans. There is one important exception: People who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO) will continue to use the plan’s ID card as their main card for Medicare. (Those cards already have a unique ID number that is not the Social Security number.) Such individuals will not receive a new card unless they switch back to Original Medicare. Also, Medicare prescription drug plans will continue to assign and use their own cards.
When Will the New Cards Arrive?
The first mailing distribution will include some mid-Atlantic states like Virginia. That wave is scheduled to begin in April and end in June. After June, CMS will roll out additional mailings in subsequent waves. Tennesseans and our neighbors here in the southeast can expect their cards to arrive sometime after June.
What do you need to do beyond checking the mail? Nothing. The old cards will still be valid for a year or more. However, health care providers must change their records. To avoid confusion, it is important to notify your doctors and other health providers when you receive the new number.
New Scam Alerts
Here are some important points to remember to help protect your identity during this transition. If you are helping an older adult, also make sure he or she knows that:
- The new Medicare card is free – there’s no charge.
- Beware of anybody who calls claiming to be from Medicare. Medicare does not make uninvited calls to beneficiaries.
- The new Medicare card entitles a beneficiary to the same Medicare benefits as the old one.
- If you need to update your address, go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount or call 800-772-1213.
- The new Medicare card is valuable, so keep it in a safe place and don’t give it to anyone except your health care providers. Unfortunately, many identity thefts are carried out by family and friends who have “borrowed” someone’s Medicare ID card.
- If you think there’s a chance you have already been a victim of medical identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has information about what to do at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0171-medical-identity-theft.
Although one always has to be vigilant, the new Medicare cards should provide one less opportunity for identity theft by keeping Social Security numbers unpublished.
Article adapted from this Forbes article.