Have you heard the news? Medicare beneficiaries will soon be receiving new Medicare cards with a new Medicare number. A 2015 law requires CMS to remove Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from all Medicare cards by April 2019 and replace them with a new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). The new cards will be sent out over a 12-month period beginning this April.

Protecting Against Identity Theft

One of the primary reasons for removing SSNs from people’s Medicare cards is to protect against identity theft, but the new MBI is also confidential like the SSN and, according to CMS, should be protected as Personally Identifiable Information.

CMS elaborates on this goal in its May 2017 press release about the new Medicare cards:

“We’re taking this step to protect our seniors from fraudulent use of Social Security numbers which can lead to identity theft and illegal use of Medicare benefits,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The press release provides some alarming statistics about the rate of identity theft:

Personal identity theft affects a large and growing number of seniors. People age 65 or older are increasingly the victims of this type of crime. Incidents among seniors increased to 2.6 million from 2.1 million between 2012 and 2014, according to the most current statistics from the Department of Justice. Identity theft can take not only an emotional toll on those who experience it, but also a financial one: two-thirds of all identity theft victims reported a direct financial loss. It can also disrupt lives, damage credit ratings and result in inaccuracies in medical records and costly false claims.

It appears that this change is long overdue.

Transition Period for Providers and Beneficiaries

The plan, according to CMS, is to give Medicare beneficiaries and their health care providers access to a secure look up tool that will help them quickly find their new MBI when they need it. Additionally, CMS will provide a 21-month transition period (April 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019) during which time providers can use either the new MBI or old SSN-based Medicare number when filing claims.

Beginning January 1, 2020, providers will be required to submit claims using MBIs regardless of the date of service.

Rollout Timeframe

Beginning in April 2018, CMS will start mailing the new Medicare cards with the MBI to all Medicare beneficiaries in phases by geographic location. 

The MBI won’t change people’s Medicare benefits, and beneficiaries may start using their new Medicare cards and MBIs as soon as they receive them. The effective date of the new cards, just like the old cards, is the date each beneficiary was or is eligible for Medicare.

For Medicare beneficiaries who choose to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan or MAPD, they will still get an insurance card from the MA carrier and will only use that card while enrolled.

More About the New Medicare Cards and MBIs

The MBI will be 11 characters in length, made up only of numbers and upper-case letters, and will have no hidden or special meaning. Each MBI is unique and randomly generated.

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here’s a picture of the new Medicare card:

Be Sure to Tell Your Clients!

While there’s a very good reason for moving from the current SSN-based Medicare numbers to new, randomly-generated numbers, this will no doubt create some confusion. You can save yourself a lot of phone calls by going ahead and letting your Medicare clients know about the change now. Plus, this is a great excuse to touch base with your clients and see if you can help them with any other insurance needs.

Here’s a flyer you can use when communicating the change.