New Medicare cards offer better protection against fraud and identity theft

Calendar Icon Updated January 17, 2019

Starting this past April, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began mailing new Medicare cards to more than 57 million program participants.  The new cards are part of a fraud prevention initiative that removes Social Security numbers from Medicare cards to help prevent identity theft and other illegal uses.  Work began on the initiative many years ago, but accelerated following the passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. Issuance of the new MBI will not change the benefits a Medicare beneficiary receives.

Instead of a Social Security number, the new cards use a unique and randomly assigned 11-character number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) made up of numbers and uppercase letters.  Previously, Social Security numbers were used as a beneficiary’s Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN).  Congress has mandated that the deadline for replacing all Medicare cards must take place by April 2019. 

CMS officials stress that the MBI should be treated with the same level of confidentiality as a Social Security number and also be treated as personally identifiable information

Providers and beneficiaries will both be able to use secure look up tools that will support quick access to MBIs when they need them. There will also be a 21-month transition period where providers will be able to use either the MBI or the HICN further easing the transition.  That transition period will run through December 31, 2019.  CMS officials will monitor the transition period to determine how many people are ready to use only the MBIs by January 2020 to make sure that Medicare operations are not interrupted.

The new MBI will replace the HICN for use on several different types of transactions including billing, eligibility status and claim status.  The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also use the new MBI to continue conducting business with current benefit providers such as the Social Security Administration, the United States Railroad Retirement Board, State Medicaid agencies, health care providers, and health plans.

Personal identity theft affects a large and growing number of seniors. People age 65 or older are increasingly the victims of this type of crime. 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.


Bret Colson

For more than a decade, he managed the city government public information and marketing activities for Anaheim, California, including an active role in the build-out of more than $5 billion in community and infrastructure improvements.  He also spent several years managing the public information function for an Orange County, California special district that served the needs of more than 1.6 million people, and has consulted for several local governments and private sector companies throughout the course of his career.

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