(HELENA) For decades, Medicare cards have shown a beneficiary’s Health Insurance Claim Number – the same as their Social Security number, followed by a single letter. That has always led to some concerns about identity theft.
“People would call up and say, ‘Hey, can you remove my Social Security number from the Medicare card?’” said Jeff Hinson, regional administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. “We’ve never been able to do it.”
That changed in 2015, when Congress approved an overhaul of the Medicare cards. Between April 2018 and April 2019, all Medicare recipients will receive a new card, with a unique new Medicare number – a combination of 11 randomly selected letters and numbers.
Hinson visited Montana last week to explain the changes. CMS began mailing new cards to about 220,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the state on Sept. 17. The process is expected to last around a month.
Once you get the new Medicare care, it’s immediately ready to use.
“You should securely destroy your old card – and I mean by that, shred it,” said Hinson. “Just don’t throw it in the garbage.”
Medicare recipients don’t have to do anything special to get their new cards, though Hinson said you may need to update your address with the Social Security Administration if you’ve moved in the last six months. CMS is mailing the cards out over a period of weeks, and even two neighbors may receive them a long time apart.
Hinson warned there are some unscrupulous people taking advantage of the new cards.
“No one from Medicare will ever call anybody and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to help you get your new card,’ or, ‘You’re gonna send us some money, we’ll help you get your new card faster,’” he said. “Don’t fall for it; hang up right away and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE.”
Finally, while the new card doesn’t show your Social Security number, Hinson said you still need to be careful with it – and with your new number.
“It ties you to your medical identity,” he said. “Guard your card like it’s a credit card, like your driver’s license number, like your Social Security number. Don’t share it with anybody; only work with your medical trusted partners or your family members that are actually helping you get health care.”
Hinson said another advantage of the new Medicare numbers is that, if you think your number has been compromised, CMS can quickly give you a new card with a new number. That’s something they couldn’t do under the previous system.
You can find more information about the new cards on the official U.S. government Medicare site (www.medicare.gov/newcard).