ATLANTA - Each year, about 2 million Americans have their medical identity stolen. If thieves get their hands on your name, social security, and a few other basics, they can file fake insurance claims, fill prescriptions, even pay for surgeries and procedures in your name. So, to try to lower the risk of personal information getting into the wrong hands, Medicare is revamping and reissuing the red-white-and-blue Medicare ID cards used by 56 million Americans 65 and older.
Dr. Renard Murray, Consortium Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says the new Medicare cards look similar to the old ones, but with two main changes. They no longer include the user's social security number or signature, which could dramatically raise the risk of fraud and identity theft. Instead of using their social security numbers, members will be assigned a randomly-selected ID number made up of a series of letters and numbers. Medicare is mailing out the cards in waves around the country, focusing on the Southeastern U.S. right now.
"What we normally tell our beneficiaries, is, when you get this new card, start using it immediately," Murray says.
Congress ordered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to revamp the cards amid concerns that loss or theft of the cards was leading to a rise in fraud cases.
"Because criminals are getting a little bit more savvy than they were in the past," Murray says. "So, now you're seeing situations where people are being victimized because of fraud and identity theft. We've seen a lot of that. But, nonetheless, we're hoping this is going to minimize a lot of that."
The new cards are free and will not change any benefits or services. If you've not received a card, you can continue to use your old one until April of 2019. Murray says about 1.6 million Georgians should receive their new cards over the next month or two.
"When you get the new card, it's immediately effective," Dr. Murray says. "So, our systems have already been programmed to accept those new numbers."
Murray says to keep an eye out in the mail for your card and remember to safeguard it like you would a credit card.
"When you get the card, immediately destroy your old one," Murray says. "If you don't know how to destroy it, we've got information on our website that tells you how to destroy your old card, because that has your Social Security number on it, and you don't want to just throw that in the garbage can."
If you have not received your new Medicare card by the end of September, Murray says you can get help at mymedicare.gov or by calling the Medicare hotline at 1-800-633-4227.