Beginning in April, and continuing for a year, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will mail new identification cards to Medicare’s 55 million beneficiaries. These cards will replace the version in effect since 1965. (Historical note: The first Medicare card was issued to former President Harry S. Truman by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the groundbreaking legislation.)
Why Do We Need New Medicare Cards?
The new Medicare ID cards have only one purpose: to help prevent identity theft.
The number on the current Medicare ID card (called a Health Insurance Claim Number, or HICN) is the person’s Social Security number. This number is used not only by the Social Security Administration, but also by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, state Medicaid agencies, health care providers and health plans.
In the hands of an unscrupulous person, a Social Security number can open the door to all kinds of mischief and misuse. That’s why the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 required CMS to replace the old numbers with new ones and give them a new name — Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI).
Each new number will have 11 digits and will be assigned randomly. The new numbers are “non-intelligent,” which means that they don’t have any hidden or special meaning. They will be a combination of single-digit numbers and upper-case (capital) letters. All the letters of the alphabet will be used, except S, L, O, I, B and Z, to make the combination easier to read — if not to remember.
The new cards will be printed on regular-weight paper and will be a little smaller than the old ones — about the size of a credit card. Another change: the new cards do not indicate gender.
When Will the New Cards Arrive?
The first wave of mail distribution will include Middle Atlantic states such as Delaware and Maryland and western states such as California and Oregon, plus Pacific territories like Guam. That wave is scheduled to begin in April and end in June.
After June, CMS will roll out mailings to five more geographic areas. If you or your parent live in Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Puerto Rico and some other states/territories, you will be in the last group to receive the MBIs. This schedule is subject to change so check the Medicare.gov site for updates.
What do you need to do beyond checking the mail? Nothing. The old cards will still be valid for a year or more. However, health care providers must change their records. To avoid confusion, it is important to notify your doctors and other health providers when you receive the new number.
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