In April, the government will start sending out new Medicare cards, launching a massive, yearlong effort to alter how 59 million people enrolled in the federal health insurance program are identified.
Historically, Medicare ID cards have been stamped with the Social Security numbers of members — currently, about 50 million seniors and 9 million people with serious disabilities. But that’s been problematic: If a wallet or purse were stolen, a thief could use that information, along with an address or birthdate on a driver’s license, to steal someone’s identity.
For years, phone scammers have preyed on older adults by requesting their Medicare numbers, giving various reasons for doing so. People who fall for these ruses have found bank accounts emptied, Social Security payments diverted or bills in their mailboxes for medical services or equipment never received.
The new cards address these concerns by removing each member’s Social Security number and replacing it with a new, randomly generated 11-digit “Medicare number” (some capital letters are included). This will be used to verify eligibility for services and for billing purposes going forward.
Such a major change can involve bumps along the way, so there will be a transition period during which you can use either your new Medicare card or your old card at doctors’ offices and hospitals. Both should work until Dec. 31, 2019.
If you forget your new card at home, your doctor’s staff should be able to look up your new Medicare number up at a secure computer site. Or, they can use information that’s already on file during the transition period.
“We’ve had a few people contact us and ask ‘If I don’t have the new card at a doctor’s appointment, does that mean my provider won’t see me?’” said Casey Schwartz, senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center. “That shouldn’t be an issue.”
Cards will be sent to people covered by Medicare on a rolling basis over a 12-month period ending in April 2019. Older adults in Alaska, California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be the first to receive the mailings, between April and June, along with several U.S. territories — American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The last wave of states will be Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“If your sister who lives in another state gets her card before you, don’t fret,” the Federal Trade Commission explained in a new alert. Since the cards are going out in waves, “your card may arrive at a different time than hers.”
If you think Social Security might not have your current address, call 1-800-772-1213 or check your online Social Security account at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/, the FTC advised.