Nearly 58 million Americans pack Medicare cards, and because their Social Security number is on the card, this puts them at great risk of fraud and identity theft. Medicare is planning to replace the cards as mandated by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) to protect beneficiaries. New cards begin mailing April 2018, and that gives providers a year to convert their systems.

In the works for years, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has developed the randomly-assigned Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) as a replacement. By congressional fiat, all cards must be replaced by April 2019. The new, unique MBI number contains a combination of numbers and uppercase letters. Beneficiaries will be instructed to destroy their Medicare cards and keep the new MBI confidential. Issuance of the new MBI will not change the benefits a Medicare beneficiary receives, the agency said.

CMS cites Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics, “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.”

CMS has a website dedicated to the Social Security Removal Initiative (SSNRI) where providers can find the latest information and sign-up for newsletters. CMS is also planning regular calls as a way to share updates and answer provider questions before and after new cards are mailed beginning in April 2018.

“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. “We want to be sure that Medicare beneficiaries and healthcare providers know about these changes well in advance and have the information they need to make a seamless transition.”