Sept. 19, 2018
The number one question I am asked is, “When is Medicare going to remove my social security number from my Medicare card?” After years of being the bearer of bad news, I am happy to report that changes are in progress.
Numerous public and private enterprises have utilized social security numbers (SSNs) as a reliable and unique piece of identifying information. However, the use of SSNs on items like insurance cards and driver’s licenses has become illegal. The Department of Health and Human Services has long advocated taking SSNs off Medicare cards as well, but the estimated costs and effort involved have prevented this update. That is, until President Obama signed The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This bill mandates that social security numbers are to be removed from Medicare cards by April 2019 and allocates funds for this transition. The distribution of new Medicare cards began in April 2018.
Why Has It Taken So Long?
Medicare and partnering agencies, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA), have used social security numbers as beneficiaries’ Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICN) for years. To make the transition as smooth as possible, Medicare and their partner organizations had to enable their systems to recognize the new randomly assigned Medicare Numbers. Implementation of this process, of course, took some time. Not to mention, distributing new cards to beneficiaries is also a lengthy process.
Check the Status of Your New Medicare Card
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has chosen to mail out new cards to beneficiaries in geographic waves. As of August 2018, mailing has been completed in the following states and territories:
- District of Columbia
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- American Samoa
- Northern Mariana Islands
Mailings in 13 additional states have recently begun and the new cards will take at least one month to arrive. New cards for beneficiaries in the final 17 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are expected to mail out at a later date. To check the status of your new Medicare card, visit Medicare.gov.
Beware of Medicare Scammers
Remember, these new cards are FREE and mailed automatically to the address associated with each beneficiary’s My Social Security account (the online benefits management platform used by both the SSA and CMS). Be aware that scammers may use this opportunity to contact seniors and solicit sensitive identifying information or payment under the guise it’s needed to deliver their new Medicare cards. Medicare will NEVER contact you uninvited to request this information or request payment in exchange for your new card or new Medicare Number.
How to Keep Your SSN Safe in the Meantime
New cards can be used as soon as they arrive. Once you receive your new card, be sure to destroy your old one by shredding it or cutting it up with scissors. If you have not yet received your new card, it’s important to keep your original one and your SSN safe in the meantime. So, to protect yourself from identity theft, do not carry your original Medicare card in your wallet.
Use this alternative instead:
- Make a photocopy of the front and back of your Medicare card.
- Block out all but the last four digits of your social security number.
- Place your original Medicare card in a secure location.
- Carry the photocopy version in your wallet instead.
This option ensures that, if your wallet were to be lost or stolen, your social security number would not be exposed.
Ask Health Care Providers About Proof of Insurance Requirements
When visiting the doctor, it is best to take your original Medicare card with you to ensure all products, services and medications billed through Medicare are covered. This is especially important for first visits with new health care providers and those that have policies prohibiting them from accepting photocopies as proof of Medicare coverage. On the other hand, many providers use electronic records and stored coverage information may suffice. To be sure, double check with individual providers regarding their need for proof of insurance. If you do take your card to appointments, remember to secure it as soon as you return home until the next visit.
How Is Insurance Verified During a Medical Emergency?
If you’re still awaiting the delivery of your new Medicare card, you may be wondering what would happen in the event of a medical emergency. Would the ER accept a photocopy of your original Medicare card? Aren’t you supposed to provide your card to all health care providers? Will you be able to receive treatment? Fortunately, you are protected by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The EMTALA is a federal law that requires all emergency department patients to be stabilized and treated regardless of insurance status. If it is required, you can provide the ER with your original Medicare card at a later time.
It will take time for the government to implement and distribute all these new cards, but using the original cards responsibly can help prevent fraudulent activity in the meantime.