What To Do With Your New Medicare Card Number

Learn How to Protect Your Identity

Wallet showing social security card
Your Medicare card has your Social Security number on it. duckycards/Getty Images


Identity theft is on the rise. In 2017 alone, healthcare data breaches involved 3,286,498 medical records. It didn't help that Medicare cards blatantly posted your Social Security numbers as the Medicare Claim Number until now.

Understand how your Medicare number works — past, present, and future — to prevent identify theft.

What the Numbers (and Letters) on Your Medicare Card Mean

Medicare enrollment is actually run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), not by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Instead, CMS focuses on the rules and regulations of the Medicare program, determining your coverage benefits and how hospitals and providers will be paid. The two federal agencies work in concert.

With Social Security at the helm, it should not be surprising that your Medicare Claim Number often matched your Social Security Claim Number. There are exceptions, of course. If you are receiving Social Security benefits based on someone else's record (e.g., your spouse or your parent) that person's social security number will be listed as your Medicare Claim Number instead. When you become eligible for Social Security benefits on your own record (e.g., retirement) the Medicare Claim Number would be changed to your own personal Social Security number.

There are all other identifying numbers and alpha characters on your card too. You can use this guide to help you interpret your own card:

  • A - You are a retired primary claimant.
  • B - You are the spouse of a primary claimant.
  • C - You are the child of a primary claimant.
  • D - You are a widow or widower.
  • E - You are a widowed parent to the primary claimant.
  • F - You are the parent of the primary claimant.
  • H - You are eligible based on disability.
  • J and K - You are a "special beneficiary"
  • M - You are not eligible for free Part A but are enrolled in Part B.
  • T - You are eligible for Medicare benefits but not Social Security benefits.
  • W - You are the disabled widow or widower of the primary claimant.

Who knew you could learn so much about a person based on one little card?

Social Security Numbers and Your Medicare Card

The debate over about taking Social Security numbers and Medicare cards went on for years. The Office of the Inspector General made the recommendation in a formal report in 2006 and again in 2008. The U.S. Government Accountability Office not only published a report on the subject in 2012 but also gave recommendations on how to do it in 2015. They recommended changing from paper cards to electronic Medicare cards, replacing Social Security numbers with other identifying information put into barcodes.

Unfortunately, it always came down to dollars and cents. In 2011, CMS estimated that the cost of changing all existing Medicare cards would be prohibitive, as high as $845 million. That left Medicare beneficiaries, the people actually at risk for identify theft, to pay the highest price. That is, until the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 finally put beneficiaries first.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama, the law requires that Social Security Numbers be removed from Medicare cards by April 2019. The change will not happen overnight. The Department of Health and Human Services has four years, until 2019, to make this change for people new to Medicare but eight years, until 2023, to change cards for those already on Medicare.

CMS isn't waiting. They actually began mailing new Medicare cards to all beneficiaries, new and old, starting in April 2018. There will be a transition period where people and healthcare providers/facilities can use either the old or the new number to exchange data with CMS. This transition period will last from April 2018 through December 2019. Hopefully, that will be enough time to smooth out the course.

What to Do with Your New Medicare Card

While you wait for your new Medicare card (and even after you get it), how can you protect yourself from identity theft? 

  1. Do not carry your Medicare card. Carrying around any cards or documents with your Social Security number on it comes with great risk. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you could be handing your financial future to identity thieves.
  2. Copy your Medicare card. Many people follow recommendations made by the Privacy Rights Clearing House to make copies of their Medicare card and keep the original at home. They advise you cut the paper copy down to wallet size and then cut out the last four digits of your Medicare Claim Number, i.e. Medicare ID number.
  3. Blackout your Medicare card. Alternatively, you could use a permanent marker to black out the last four digits of your ID number. While you will need your original Medicare card the first time you see a healthcare provider, this copied card can be a handy resource for follow-up visits.
  4. Be wary of people asking for your ID number. With any change to the healthcare system, there will be someone trying to defraud the system. Do not give your ID number over the telephone. Scammers pretending to be the federal government have been calling senior citizens and asking for personal information, stating they need the information in order to send out a new Medicare card. They have even threatened to cancel coverage if they do not get the information. CMS will never call you asking for personal or private information. If you receive a call like this, please contact the authorities immediately.

A Word from Verywell

You may not have realized how much your Medicare card said about you. It not only shared your Social Security number, it let people know if you are disabled or widowed or have children. Identity thieves have a lot to gain from that information while you have a lot to lose if your card gets lost, stolen, or hacked. The federal government has finally taken steps to remove this information from your Medicare card to protect its beneficiaries. Be on the lookout for your new Medicare card starting in April 2018.

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