Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services via AP
With the Oct. 15 start of the open enrollment period for Medicare fast approaching, federal officials Thursday unveiled the design of the new Medicare ID cards that will no longer include Social Security numbers and other personal information that could compromise beneficiaries’ identities.
Congress ordered the change in what’s included on the Medicare cards. “The goal of the initiative to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards is to help prevent fraud, combat identify theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said on a conference call Thursday. Verma said CMS is “focused on protecting our beneficiaries, making sure they are not vulnerable to any type of identity theft.”
An 11-character, randomly assigned number that will have no connection to a Medicare beneficiary’s other personal information will replace the Social Security numbers. The new ID will be a combination of characters and numbers. An enrollee’s gender and signature are also being removed from the card, which now will include just the new identifier, which Medicare coverage the beneficiary is eligible for and when the coverage began.
Verma said CMS was previewing the new card Thursday because her agency this week began mailing out the 2018 Medicare & You Handbook that beneficiaries can use as they review their Medicare coverage in advance of open enrollment.
CMS will begin mailing the new cards in April 2018. Congress mandated that all existing cards be replaced by April 2019 and that CMS begins using the new IDs by December 2019. Verma stressed that recipients can start using their new cards as soon as they get them and CMS will include instructions in the mailing about how to safety and securely destroy their current Medicare ID. Enrollee’s current cards will be valid until the new one arrives.
CMS is also preparing a secure online portal where providers can find out whether specific patients have been issued a new number. The current Medicare call centers will be able to answer questions about the new card.
Because more than 58 million cards need to be sent, the distribution will be done over an extended period of time. Beneficiaries shouldn’t be concerned if they get their new numbers after a spouse or friend gets theirs.
CMS has already begun a Guard Your Card public service campaign to urge beneficiaries not to let their current — or new — cards fall into the hands of criminals. According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are already calling beneficiaries pretending to be from Medicare. The three most commons scenarios are:
- You’re asked for your Social Security number and bank information so you can get the new card. Hang up. Medicare will never call you and never ask for such information.
- You’re asked to pay for your new card. Hang up. The new card is free.
- You’re told you’ll lose your Medicare benefits if you don’t give them money and personal information right now. Hang up. The free card will be automatically sent to you. Your benefits will remain the same.
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