Editorial: New Medicare card a much-needed change to ward off scammers, protect the public

Published: 8/9/2018 9:00:04 AM

In Massachusetts there are about 1,218,000 Medicare recipients. That’s about 18 percent of the population. It seems likes a huge number, and it represents an even larger sum of money spent on health care for the elderly and disabled. For that reason, Medicare is a big target for fraud, as we see in many news accounts of schemers and scammers charged with bilking the federal government for false Medicare payouts or identify fraud.

So, we were happy to see that the government has taken a new step to deter Medicare fraud: newer Medicare health care cards for recipients, cards that are less likely to benefit schemers.

Massachusetts residents can expect to receive their new cards in the mail this month. The old cards, like the state’s old driver’s licenses, incorporated Social Security numbers, which created an opening for identify thieves to steal that all-important federal numeric identifier.

What people will see on the card is a new, randomly assigned number, not their Social Security number.

Elder advocates are reminding Medicare recipients to destroy their current cards when the new ones arrive, although seniors with supplemental insurance plans should hold on to the separate cards for those plans, as they are not affected by this change.

Another difference in the new card is there is no signature required and no gender indicated. These are all changes to help protect peoples’ identity. The new card reduces the chance of people gaining access to health and financial information.

“Removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards is one of the many ways CMS is committed to putting patients first and improving the consumer healthcare experience,” said Raymond Hurd, regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “This change not only protects Medicare patients from fraud, but also safeguards taxpayer dollars by making it harder for criminals to use Social Security numbers to falsely bill Medicare for care services and benefits that were never performed.”

Work on this initiative came from the enactment of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

CMS began mailing the new Medicare cards to people who currently have Medicare. Additionally, anyone new to Medicare started to receive their new cards in April.

The new Medicare card will not change any of the program benefits and services that eligible people enrolled in Medicare receive. People with Medicare and their caregivers can visit www.medicare.gov/newcard to find out when new Medicare cards will be mailed to their area. They can also sign up for email notifications about the new card mailing and check the status in their state.

There will also be a 21-month period for health care providers and suppliers to use either the former Social Security-based Medicare number or the new Medicare number to ensure a seamless transition.

But times of transition are also times of confusion, which attracts the very fraudsters the new cards are intended to fend off. As the new Medicare cards are being mailed, people with Medicare should look out for scams and follow these tips offered by the Medicare administrators:

Medicare will never contact you for your Medicare number or other personal information, for you to obtain your new Medicare card.

Don’t pay for your new Medicare card. It’s free. If anyone calls or approaches you and says you need to pay for it, it’s a scam.

Guard your card. When you get your new card, safeguard it like you would health insurance or credit cards.

Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.

We live in a complicated world, and it’s ironic that a change that should safeguard us can also be used to defraud us. But in the long run, the new cards should be a welcome change.

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