In a monumental task to curb identity theft, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is in the process of mailing nearly 60 million new Medicare cards to beneficiaries.
Until now, Medicare cards listed the recipient’s signature and Social Security number on the front of the card, as their Social Security number doubled as their Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN). This made cardholders prime targets for fraud.
“We’re taking this step to protect our seniors from fraudulent use of Social Security numbers, which can lead to identity theft and illegal use of Medicare benefits,” said Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
In 2015, under the Obama administration, Congress mandated that the CMS make the changes to the card, giving the agency until April 2019 to complete all of the mailings.
Scammers are more vigilant than ever, though, and they’re developing new ways to con people. Another cause for concern is when Floridians and people in other states can expect to receive their new cards.
Here, then, are important points about the new Medicare cards:
Medicare cards are mailed out in waves
The mailings are going out in waves to reach all Medicare recipients in the country, so don’t be alarmed if your relative in New York received a new card, but you didn’t. The government began mailing the cards this spring, and finished mailing them to all of New England, plus 14 other states.
The agency is in the process of sending cards to people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, but Medicare.gov says it could take up to a month for those states to receive their cards — the site was last updated on Sept. 17.
“Some people have reported not receiving a new card despite reporting the wave is complete,” said Sue Greeno, from the Center of Medicare Advocacy. “In that case, beneficiaries are able to go to their ‘MyMedicare’ account and find out if their card was mailed. Cards will not be mailed in cases where they do not trust the address,” she said. “Beneficiaries are directed to contact Medicare to provide updated information.”
Check your state’s status online
You can check www.medicare.gov/newcard to check the status of your card, to see where cards have been mailed, and you can enter your email to be notified when mailings begin in your state. Once you receive the new card, start taking it to your doctor visits.
AARP recommends using a “confetti” shredder to destroy the old card to protect against identity theft.
New card won’t change your benefits
Though the card will be different, your benefits will remain the same. If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) or a Medicare Drug Plan, keep using that plan’s ID card whenever you need care or prescriptions. The new card will still be white, with red, blue, and black print, but the design will be different.
No more Social Security number
Your new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) number is a unique combination of 11 numbers and letters.
The numbers will range from “0” through “9.” The letters S, L, O, I, B, and Z will never be used. The new card is smaller, about the size of a credit card.
Protect your Medicare number
Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other healthcare providers, your insurer, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
Beware of scams
Kathy Stokes, who leads the AARP Fraud Watch Network, said scam artists aren’t wasting any time closing in on vulnerable people.
“Any time something has changed, scammers find a way to take advantage of it,” she said.
Stokes said scammers will call people posing as Medicare representatives, saying that in order to get their new card they need to verify their Social Security number, or they need to pay $25 (the card is free). The scammers then request the cardholder’s credit card number.
Other scams include calls saying there’s a balance on the current Medicare card. The callers will then say they want to refund the money back to you — and then they’ll request your bank account information.
The Federal Trade Commission says another ruse by scammers is that they’re calling saying they can send recipients a plastic card instead of a paper one, and will then request money for it. (The cards will remain paper.)
“Listen for red flags,” Stokes said.
Medicare, or someone representing Medicare, will call and ask for personal information in only these situations:
▪ A Medicare health or drug plan can call you if you’re already a member of the plan.
▪ The agent who helped you register can also call you.
▪ A customer service representative from 1-800-MEDICARE can call you if you’ve called and left a message or a representative said that someone would call you back.
Medicare will never call you unsolicited and ask for your personal information in order to get your new Medicare number and card.
If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, Medicare advises to hang up and call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
If you suspect identity theft, or feel like you gave your personal information to someone you shouldn’t, report the issue at www.identitytheft.gov, which is an entity of the Federal Trade Commission.
Consumers can also call their local Senior Medicare Patrol, a federally funded service, or AARP’s Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360.
You can still use your current card … for now
Consumer Reports says the transition period during which you can use either your new Medicare card or your old one at doctors’ offices and hospitals is in effect until Dec. 31, 2019; after that date, only the new card will be accepted, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Your new card will automatically come to you. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up to date.
If you need to update your address, visit the Social Security Administration website and create or log in to your account: www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.
You can also call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
According to MedicareResources.org, 1 in 5 Florida residents have Medicare coverage. In 2015, there were more than 4 million Medicare beneficiaries in Florida — about 20 percent of the state’s population. Nationwide, about 17 percent of the U.S. population is enrolled in Medicare.
“We want to be sure that Medicare beneficiaries and healthcare providers know about these changes well in advance and have the information they need to make a seamless transition,” said Verma about the new cards.
Reports show there were nearly 17 million victims of identity fraud last year, a record high that surpassed another record from the year before. Stolen funds topped nearly $17 billion last year, an increase of 12 percent from 2016, reports Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial advisory firm.
For the first time last year, more Social Security numbers were stolen than credit card numbers.