DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: I just received my Medicare card in the mail and was surprised to see that the ID number is the same as my Social Security number.
I know it’s a bad idea to carry around anything that displays my Social Security number because it makes me vulnerable to identity theft. Wasn’t the government supposed to stop putting Social Security numbers on Medicare cards?
— New Beneficiary
DEAR NEW: Many people new to Medicare are surprised to learn that the ID number on their Medicare card is still identical to their Social Security number (SSN). After all, we’re constantly warned not to carry our SSN around with us, because if it gets lost or stolen, the result could be identity theft.
But the card itself tells beneficiaries to carry it with you when you are away from home so you can show it at the doctor’s office or hospital when you need medical care. Here’s what you should do to protect yourself.
NEW MEDICARE CARDS
For starters, you’ll be happy to know that the government is in the process of removing SSNs from Medicare cards, but with 58 million beneficiaries, it’s a huge undertaking that will be implemented gradually. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will start sending the new cards in April 2018, but it will take until December 2019 before SSNs are removed from all cards.
Under the new system, a randomly generated 11-character Medicare Beneficiary Identifier will replace the SSN-based health claim number on your new Medicare card, but your Medicare benefits will not change. You can start using your new Medicare card as soon as you receive it, and there should be a transition period in 2018 and 2019 when you can use either the old card or the new card.
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY
Until your new Medicare card is issued, here’s what you can do to protect your SSN on your current card. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a national consumer resource on identity theft, recommends that you carry your Medicare card only when you visit a health care provider for the first time, so the provider can make a copy for their files.
Otherwise, make a photocopy of your card and cut it down to wallet size. Then take a black marker and black out the last four digits of your SSN, and carry that instead in case of an emergency.
If your Medicare card does happen to get lost or stolen, you can replace it by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office. You can also request a card online at ssa.gov/myaccount. Your card will arrive in the mail in about 30 days.
If your Medicare card that contains your SSN gets lost or stolen, you’ll need to watch out for Medicare fraud. You can do this by checking your quarterly Medicare summary notices for services or supplies you did not receive. You can also check your Medicare claims early online at MyMedicare.gov (you’ll need to create an account first) or by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. If you spot anything suspicious or wrong, call the Inspector General’s fraud hotline at 800-447-8477.
Also, watch for other signs of identity theft. For example, if someone uses your Social Security number to obtain credit, loans, telephone accounts or other goods and services, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov (or 877-438-4338). This site will also give you specific steps you’ll need to take to handle this problem.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.