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Health and Benefits

New Medicare Cards Are Coming

In 2015, Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. The Act required the Federal Government to stop using social security numbers as identifiers on Medicare cards. Growing awareness of the dramatic increase in identity theft and fraud scams prompted Congress to legislate this change. 

When your social security number is on your Medicare card, every employee of every health care provider, lab, and pharmacy you use has the key to your identity and financial life. That also goes for health information processing centers. The hope is the new Medicare cards will eliminate thieves using Medicare cards for identity theft.

What Will the New Cards Look Like?

The appearance of the new cards will be similar to your current card.  It will be a paper card in red, white and blue.  In place of your social security number, you will be given a unique 11-character identifier that will be called your “Medicare Beneficiary Identifier” or MBI.  The MBI will consist of a randomly generated combination of numbers and uppercase letters.  No special characters will be used.

The new card will feature a solid blue border at the top rather than the red, white and blue stripes seen on the old card.  Another notable change – there will be no signature line at the bottom

New Cards Will Be Issued Automatically, At No Cost to You

Do not listen to anyone who tells you there is a charge for your new card.  The card will come to you in the mail when your state of residence is scheduled.  You do not need to do anything. Of course, con men and scam artists have latched onto the news of the new Medicare cards and found a way to exploit it.  There have been reports of telephone scams where the scammer purports to be a Medicare employee.  They tell you they cannot issue your new card without you verifying your identity.  They ask you to provide personal information like your SSN, your address and date of birth.  In another version of the scam, the con artist tells you that your current Medicare card is no longer valid, and you must pay a fee to receive a temporary card to use until your permanent card arrives.  NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE TRUE.

Medicare will never call you uninvited and request information over the phone.  Medicare will never call you to inform you that you must pay a fee to receive your card.  If you receive a phone call that purports to be from Medicare asking you for money or information, hang up immediately and call Medicare to report the fraud.  Call 1-800-633-4227, or 1-800-Medicare.

The Scope of the Task

The task for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is monumental.  CMS will need to replace Medicare cards for 150 Million beneficiaries – 60 Million living beneficiaries and 90 Million deceased. Why would they need to change identifiers for dead people?  That seems strange.  Presumably, the new systems will not identify them without a new number.  It may also be is to prevent their social security numbers from being used by criminals.

In addition to issuing the new cards, CMS will need to replace 75 old computer and information systems, get the new systems installed and working properly, and change their entire method of identifying participants.  The private sector also has a big job.  The 2015 Act requires all federal and private health information systems to be ready to process claims with the new cards by 2018.

New systems usually mean a substantial learning curve.  Health care providers and claims processing centers need to update both their systems and their data.  Undoubtedly, mistakes will be made.  Claims will be lost; providers and processers will have problems matching the patient and the claim.  There will be delays and frustrations on both ends.  However, once the bugs are worked out, we should end up with a safer system.

The Mailing Schedule

Starting in April, Medicare began issuing the new cards.  As new seniors enroll in Medicare, they will receive the updated card.  For the rest of us (seniors with ongoing Medicare coverage), the cards will be issued in stages over the next year.  Arizona is near the bottom of the list (group 6 of 7), so our cards will most likely be mailed late this year or early in 2019.  The published schedule is as follows, and as far as I can ascertain, the cards will be mailed in the order listed below:

  • Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia:  April to June 2018,
  • Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon:  April to June 2018.
  • Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin:  after June 2018
  • Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont:  after June 2018
  • Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina:  after June 2018.
  • Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming:  after June 2018.
  • Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Virgin Islands:  after June 2018.

The Government cannot give us a more precise time frame.  Processing and issuing millions of new Medicare cards is a huge job, and no one knows exactly how long it will take.

After the New Card Arrives

When your new Medicare card comes in the mail, immediately shred the old one.  Please, don’t just throw it in the trash.  Identity thieves count on people carelessly discarding their old card.  If you don’t have a shredder, cut the card up into small pieces, making sure your SSN is obliterated.  

CMS has authorized a transition period when patients can use either card.  That transition period ends in December 2019.  Once you receive your new Medicare card, begin using it right away.  From that point on, you should not need to give medical providers your SSN.  If a medical form at a lab, doctor’s office or hospital asks for your social security number, leave that section blank or write the letters “N/A” for not applicable in the blank.  Refusing to provide your SSN is a big step toward preventing identity theft.  If you belong to a Medicare Advantage plan, continue using your plan card as well as any cards for drug plans you may have. 

Be prepared for a bit of confusion and for mistakes in the initial months of the change.  Inspect your explanation of benefits forms carefully when they come in the mail.  You will need to be more vigilant in reviewing claims to make sure Medicare, your Advantage Plan, and/or your Medicare Supplemental Insurance are paying your claims.



This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.