Why Medicare and Medicaid Cards Will be a Whole Lot Safer to Carry in 2018

medicare card
Zinkevych/Getty Images

Medicare is making a small change to its identification cards that will be a big improvement for user security.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been preparing for this change for a few years, but it’s just now starting to advise Medicare cardholders about the adjustment.
New cards, to be mailed to recipients starting in April 2018, will feature a random Medicare Beneficiary Identifier instead of the user’s Health Insurance Claim Number — which happens to be the same as your Social Security number.

More than 57 million Americans will receive new Medicare or Medicaid cards that comply with this added security measure.

Senior Identity Theft is on the Rise

CMS acknowledged in a statement that seniors are the target of identity theft at an increasingly frequent rate. The agency cited Department of Justice data showing that 2.6 million seniors 65 or older were victims of identify theft in 2014, up from 2.1 million in 2012.

Medicare recipients have recently been targeted by aggressive phone scams, in which the caller acknowledges that a new Medicare card is on its way once the victim provides some information for verification. That information can include the victim’s banking account info and Social Security number.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services does not make calls to verify user identification numbers, and all replacement cards will be issued to users free of charge.

Changing a Few Digits for Everyone? That Takes Years

This update has been in the works in the two years since the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 was passed. All Medicare and Medicaid users will be assigned a new beneficiary identifier and receive a new identification card by April 2019.

There will be a 21-month transition period when providers will be able to use either the new beneficiary identifier or the existing number that’s the same as your Social Security number. The transition period will end in December 2019.

When you receive your new Medicare card (mark your calendars now, we guess?), you’ll receive instructions to destroy your old card.

Time Money reports that in 2011, officials estimated that replacing the cards would cost more than $800 million.

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.