Since it’s beginning over 50 years ago, Medicare has relied upon Social Security Numbers (SSN) as its primary identifiers for people with Medicare.
Although there are quite a few Medicare types, three dominate the group. Beneficiaries whose Medicare numbers consist of their own SSN followed by “A” are receiving Medicare benefits as a result of their own work history. Some beneficiaries, primarily women who have spent years out of the work force, have Medicare numbers consisting of their spouse’s SSN followed by either “B” if the spouse is living or “D” if the spouse is deceased.
Starting in 2018, all Medicare cards that use the current SSN configuration will be replaced by new cards with 11 character codes made up of numbers and capital letters. Unlike the old Medicare numbers, they will not use any SSN, nor will the number have any significance other than as a unique identifier for each person with Medicare.
I am confining this column to replacing existing cards because I have not seen a set date for when new Medicare beneficiaries will start receiving cards with these new numbers.
Why are the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) replacing Medicare cards? The primary reason is to fight medical identity theft. By decoupling the Medicare identifying number from the SSN, CMS can not only lessen the likelihood of financial fraud but can also better safeguard medical records and protect Medicare from paying deceptive bills. Financial fraud can drain bank accounts, steal tax returns, and destroy credit ratings.
Medical fraud can cause injury or death by allowing more than one person’s medical records to appear in the same file, leading to inappropriate or even fatal treatments.
One major benefit of the new cards is that the old number can be completely replaced with a new one if the old one is compromised by identity thieves. Once a person is assigned a SSN, that SSN continues for life.
Medicare numbers are closely linked with SSNs, thus they are equally fixed for life. Because the new numbers will not be associated with any personal characteristics but will be assigned randomly, a person with Medicare whose Medicare number is stolen can receive a new number soon after; and the old number can be discontinued.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 requires CMS to remove SSNs from all Medicare cards by April 2019. Medicare will mail the new cards between April 2018 and April 2019 to millions of beneficiaries.
It is important that beneficiaries not assume that they have missed the mailing because their neighbors, friends, or family members have received their new cards because the mailings will be spread over a year’s time.
There will be information about the new cards in the 2018 “Medicare and You” handbook.
The single most important thing that you can do to ensure that you receive your new card in a timely manner is to verify that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has your correct address. If you have been receiving regular mailings from SSA, your address is probably good. If you haven’t been receiving such mailings, you may want to contact SSA to verify your information.
As with all new developments, this Medicare card replacement could prompt some attempts at Medicare fraud. The cards will be mailed to you so Medicare will not be calling you about the new cards.
Do not be taken in by scammers’ using phone calls to solicit information. Once you receive your new card, you can use it immediately, but there will be a transition period through December 2019 during which your old card would work. After you have used your new card, you should destroy your old card.
Your new Medicare card should be used wherever you now use your old card. It should not affect your Medicaid if you are eligible for both or your Medicare Advantage plan if you have one. These cards remain the same.
Deena Flinchum is a retired IT professional who has lived in the New River Valley since 2002. She serves on the board of the NRV Agency on Aging and as an RSVP volunteer. She also serves the Agency on Aging as an insurance counselor.