Medi­care cards be­ing re­designed

So­cial Se­cu­rity numbers re­moved to pro­tect se­niors amid wave of fraud

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN - LAURAN NEERGAARD

WASH­ING­TON Medi­care cards are get­ting a makeover to fight iden­tity theft.

No more So­cial Se­cu­rity numbers plas­tered on the card. Next April, Medi­care will be­gin mail­ing every ben­e­fi­ciary a new card with a unique new num­ber to iden­tify the per­son.

“Crim­i­nals are in­creas­ingly tar­get­ing peo­ple age 65 and older for med­i­cal iden­tity theft,” Medi­care chief Seema Verma told The Associated Press. “We are com­mit­ted to prevent­ing fraud.”

Medi­care re­vealed the cards’ new de­sign Thurs­day as the gov­ern­ment gears up for a mas­sive tran­si­tion that will in­volve co­or­di­na­tion with 58 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries and their fam­ily mem­bers, plus hos­pi­tals, doc­tors, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, phar­ma­cies and state gov­ern­ments.

While the first mail­ings of new cards be­gin next April, Congress has set an April 2019 dead­line for all ben­e­fi­cia­ries to have re­ceived one.

One goal is to make sure se­niors know what’s com­ing so they’re not con­fused by the change — and, in the mean­time, are re­minded to guard their old cards that, if lost or stolen, can leave them vul­ner­a­ble to fi­nan­cial and le­gal con­se­quences. The gov­ern­ment recorded 2.6 mil­lion cases of iden­tity fraud in­volv­ing se­niors in 2014, up from 2.1 mil­lion in 2012.

Verma said one woman re­ported her Medi­care card stolen, got a re­place­ment and thought no more about it un­til two years later, when she learned she might be ar­rested: The thief had im­per­son­ated her to get opi­oid painkillers.

Medi­care has set up a web­site — www.cms.gov/ new card — and is be­gin­ning ads to tell ben­e­fi­cia­ries what to ex­pect start­ing next spring. Medi­care will au­to­mat­i­cally mail ben­e­fi­cia­ries their new cards. They’ll be in­structed to de­stroy their old cards af­ter they get new ones. New cards may be used right away.

Pri­vate in­sur­ers al­ready have stopped us­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity numbers on ID cards.

While the Medi­care change is cru­cial for se­niors, the tran­si­tion pe­riod also is a time when crooks could pounce, warned AARP’s Amy Nofziger, a fraud pre­ven­tion ex­pert.

“If any­one calls you to say you need to pay for your new Medi­care card, it is a scam,” she said. “If any­body is call­ing you and ask­ing you to ver­ify your So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber in or­der to is­sue your new Medi­care card, it is a scam.”

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