Social Security numbers are used for just about everything; including financial records, medical information and legal documents.
Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and people with disabilities, are removing Social Security numbers (SSN) off the cards it distributes to enrollees. Instead of identifying members by their Social Security number, the new cards will use a computer generated series of 11 letters and numbers. The cards will also no longer include a person’s gender or signature.
Pennsylvania residents were among the first affected by the change and they should have received cards between April 2018 and the end of June 2018.
The reason for this change is meant to help defend you against identity theft, which affects a large and growing number of seniors. By removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards this will help to prevent fraud, fight identity theft, and keep taxpayer dollars safe.
The use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards has long been problematic. Whether through theft or fraud, if your number falls in the wrong hands, it can be used to access your bank accounts, steal your Social Security checks, or fraudulently get medical care or prescription drugs in your name.
According to the Social Security Administration, a task force was created in 2006 to investigate identity theft. Because about 42 million Medicare cards display the full Social Security number, authorities feared that beneficiaries would be vulnerable to identity theft. Federal agencies have been recommending removal of the SSN for a number of years, and now the Department of Health and Human Services has until 2019 to issue new modernized Medicare cards to new beneficiaries and give out the new cards to those who already have existing Medicare cards.
“The change is long overdue”, states Melissa Hey, Blair Senior Services, Apprise Coordinator. “You show your health insurance card to a lot of people you wouldn’t share your Social Security number with”, she says. “The updated cards provide more privacy protection and lowers the risk of identity theft.”
Ironically, the change has sparked a wave of new scams targeting people on Medicare. The new scams started almost as soon as the replacement card program was announced. In one typical scheme, fraudsters call Medicare beneficiaries on the phone and tell them that in order to get the new card they need to provide Social Security and bank account information, threatening to cancel their Medicare benefits if they don’t provide both. None of which are true.
Seniors who account for 50 million people using Medicare, the other million are people with disabilities, are especially vulnerable to scams. Melissa Hey says, “ Older adults are targeted more often because they are perceived to be more trusting. But scams can have a devastating impact on seniors who live on a fixed income and who don’t have time to rebuild savings.”
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOUR NEW CARD
• You don’t need to do anything to get your card.
Medicare won’t call you to ask for personal or financial information. Just make sure Medicare has your current mailing address. If it needs to be updated due to moving in the past year or two, contact Social Security, which administers the Medicare program. You can update it online by creating an online account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount, or you can call 1-800-772-1213. You can also go to a Social Security field office.
• Medicare coverage and benefits will NOT change.
Getting a new Medicare card and number will not change the coverage or benefits that people with Medicare are currently receiving. The new Medicare Beneficiary Identification number (MBI) will be used for billing and for checking eligibility and claim status.
• There is no charge for the new Medicare Card.
There is absolutely no fee to get the new card. If anyone says otherwise, that should be a red flag that it’s a scam.
• You may not get your card right away.
The process of mailing cards will take time, and you may not get your new card at the same time as your friends and neighbors. All people with Medicare will be mailed new cards by April 2019. You can make sure your mailing address is up to date by contacting Social Security at www.ssa.gov/myaccount or 1-800-772-1213. TTY (Teleprinter/Teletypewriter) users can call 1-800-325-0778.
• You can use your current card until January 1, 2020.
There is 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. After that, shred your old card—don’t just put it in the trash. The new card is smaller, the size of a credit card, so it fits in your wallet more easily. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, only the new card will be usable.
• You should keep your OTHER Medicare cards.
About one-third of people get their Medicare benefits through private insurance plans known as Medicare Advantage. Your Medicare Advantage card, which like the new Medicare cards, uses a unique identifier, not your Social Security number. This will not change and will still be your main card for Medicare. But you may be asked to show your new Medicare card, too, so take that with you for your initial appointments. Same goes if you have a separate plan for prescription drug coverage, Medicare Part D.
• You can get help if you are scammed.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft or Medicare fraud, contact your state’s Senior Medicare Patrol, a federally funded program to help Medicare beneficiaries, their family, and caregivers. You can also call the Medicare fraud tip line at 1-800-447-8477; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 800-633-4227; or Blair Senior Services, Inc. Apprise office at 814-946-1235. Unlike a Social Security number, which is difficult to change, you can get a different Medicare number if needed.
Melissa Hey said, “Ways to cut down on fraud with the new cards is first and foremost, keep the card in a safe place. Do not carry the new card in your wallet. After your initial visits with your doctors, pharmacy or if you have an appointment here with us, always return your new card to a safe, secure location in your home. Be sure to check and read all the statements you receive in the mail regarding your benefits. Check for costs not associated with any visits, prescriptions or ‘fake’ services you may be charged.”
“Overall the new Medicare cards will make identity theft and theft of services for Medicare recipients less common. But be aware, scammers always find new ways. Please feel free to call our Apprise office at 814-946-1235 if there are any questions we can help answer for you.”
For more information on the new Medicare cards you can go to www.Medicare.gov.