Medicare recipients, listen up. New cards are coming to you in the mail. You don't have to do anything to receive them, except make sure that the Social Security Office has your correct mailing address says Doctor Ashby Wolfe, the regional medical officer from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Here's what she says are the answers to the most asked questions:
Q1: Why are these new cards being distributed?
A: The new Medicare cards will be different from the old cards because they won't have people's Social Security numbers on them.
Social Security numbers are being removed from Medicare cards to prevent identity theft -- and to stop scam artists from using Medicare benefits illegally.
Social Security numbers will be replaced by a unique, randomly assigned number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier.
Q2: Is identity theft a problem among seniors?
A: Yes. Identity theft affects a large and growing number of people age 65 or older.
Identity theft can take not only an emotional toll on those who experience it, but also a financial toll.
In fact, two-thirds of all identity theft victims reported a financial loss.
Identity theft can also disrupt lives, damage credit ratings, and result in inaccuracies in medical records and costly false claims.
Q3: What do people have to do to get ready for their new Medicare cards? How will they receive them?
A: The new cards will come in the mail -- along with basic instructions on how to use them.
We'll be mailing the cards to people in Hawaii between April and June.
People don't need to worry about their Medicare benefits, because they won't change at all with these new cards.
Since the cards will be mailed, people with Medicare should make sure that the Social Security Administration has their correct mailing address on file.
You should do that as soon as possible.
The easiest way to do that is by logging in or creating a new My Social Security account at SSA.gov/myaccount.
Or you can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
Let me repeat that number -- 1-800-772-1213.
If Social Security has your current mailing address, you don't need to do anything else to receive your new card.
Q4: When can people start using their new Medicare cards?
A: You can start using your new Medicare card as soon as you get it.
When you get your new card, make sure to destroy the old one.
Carry your new card and show it to your health care providers when you need care.
Doctors, pharmacists, and health plans approved by Medicare know the new cards are coming.
Providers and health care facilities will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care.
If you forget your new card, you, your doctor, or other health care provider may be able to look up your new Medicare number online.
Q5: What do the new cards look like? What material are they made of?
A: I just happen to have a picture of a new card!
You can see that the card has the person's name and the date when they first became eligible for Medicare.
And here's the new Medicare number.
Your new Medicare card will be paper.
Paper cards are easier for many providers to use and copy -- and they save taxpayers a lot of money.
Plus, you can print your own replacement card if you need one.
Q6: We're hearing that scam artists may try to take advantage of the new cards to rip people off. How can Medicare beneficiaries avoid that?
A: Fraudsters often try to take advantage of people with Medicare -- but people can protect themselves.
Make sure you guard your card -- treat your new Medicare number like you treat your Social Security or credit card numbers.
Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, insurers, or other people you trust.
Beware of anyone who contacts you and asks for your new Medicare number, personal information, or to pay a fee for your new card.
Remember: there's no cost at all for the new cards.
Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask for your personal or private information to get your new Medicare card.
If someone asks you for personal information, or for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don't share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Q7: What about people who have Medicare Advantage plans, as many folks in Hawaii do?
A: They will get new Medicare cards, too.
The primary identification they need to get care is the ID card from their Medicare Advantage plan.
However, it's a good idea to carry both cards – the new card from Medicare and your Medicare Advantage ID cards – because some providers require both.
Q8: What if someone loses their new Medicare card?
A: If you lose your new card, you'll be able to print out a copy of it.
If you need immediate care but forget your new card, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your new Medicare number online.