It has taken too long, but finally, Medicare ID cards will no longer have a member’s Social Security Number (SSN) printed on the front. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires the CMS to remove the SSN from every ID card. The CMS will mail replacement cards starting April 1, 2018, and every Medicare beneficiary will have a new card by April 2019. The new cards will have a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI).
Why Is It Important to Remove The SSN?
The answer is simple: identity theft. It is a growing problem around the world, and in the United States, 15.4 million people were victims of fraud or identity theft in 2016. This is a staggering increase of 16% on the previous year’s figure. Thieves stole a combined total of $16 billion, with each victim suffering a loss of just over $1,000, on average.
Under the existing Medicare ID system, it is easy for fraudsters to take advantage of a lost (or stolen) card because the person’s SSN is clearly visible on the front. It is a Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) on your card, but it is also your SSN. If you have someone else’s SSN, you can file a fake tax return, obtain medical care or prescriptions, and open up a new line of credit, all in that peron’s name. A 2015 report from the Ponemon Institute, entitled Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft, showed that around 50% of identity theft victims have their information stolen to get access to government benefits, such as Medicaid or Medicare.
According to Linda Sherry of Consumer Action, the new initiative will reduce the number of records at the fingertips of thieves in the event of a stolen wallet. One of the problems with the current system is that beneficiaries must carry their Medicare ID card with them at all times. Not only that, but they show their ID cards a lot, at the doctor’s office for example. In addition, the card is photocopied and stored online and in office filing cabinets. It is far too easy for any would-be fraudster to get his hands on a person’s SSN.
Why Has It Taken So Long?
Unfortunately, there is no real answer to this question. The twin excuses that it is expensive and too much work do not wash. Back in 2014, the CMS estimated that it would cost around $300 million to fix the problem. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of fraud because of the system. In 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it recovered approximately $4.3 billion from attempted fraud on federal health insurance programs such as Medicare.
The delay is even more puzzling when you realize that the problem was known a long time ago. In 2007, the Bush administration ordered all federal agencies to remove SSNs unless necessary. Federal employees’ health ID cards do not have the SSN printed on them, nor do Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs cards. In 2004, states removed SSNs from driver’s licenses as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
The IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA) have fought to remove SSNs from Medicare ID cards for years. The SSA, in particular, is an advocate for the removal of the numbers; it points out that approximately 4,500 seniors enroll in Medicare every day. Finally, in 2015, President Obama signed a bill that required the HHS to issue Medicare ID cards without the SSN visible on the card or embedded into it.
It is not entirely good news, however. The law only ensures that new Medicare beneficiaries will have SSN-free cards from 2019 onward. It gives another few years to issue the new cards to existing beneficiaries. If you are currently on Medicare, you may not have the safer card until 2023. If you are not happy with this timeframe, get in touch with the HHS or CMS. Alternatively, contact your U.S. representative or senator.
How Can I Keep My Medicare ID Card Safe?
The AARP offers the following tips to seniors:
- Don’t blindly follow the CMS’s advice to carry your card with you at all times. Most healthcare providers use electronic systems and know how to bill you. Alternatively, photocopy your ID and remove all but the last four digits. This is usually enough to meet billing protocols.
- Don’t be frightened by the idea that you won’t receive care unless you show your card. Many seniors erroneously believe they need their ID in case of a medical emergency. While you must provide billing information, you only have to show it before you leave the hospital. In other words, a member of your family or a friend can retrieve the information for you while you are in the hospital.
- If you make an appointment with a new and reputable healthcare provider, provide the number over the phone.
- Review your quarterly Medicare summary. It provides details of the services and procedures you received under Part A and B. If you spot something that doesn’t belong on the summary, investigate it or simply report the potential error.
In the age of technology, there is no need to carry your Medicare ID card with you everywhere you go. Keep it secure so your SSN doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Soon, this revealing information will vanish with the advent of a new card, so keep your SSN safe until then.