BALTIMORE – The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is readying a fraud prevention initiative that removes Social Security numbers from Medicare cards to help combat identity theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars. The new cards will use a unique, randomly assigned number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier, to replace the Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number currently used on the Medicare card. CMS will begin mailing new cards in April 2018 and will meet the congressional deadline for replacing all Medicare cards by April 2019. Today, CMS kicks-off a multi-faceted outreach campaign to help providers get ready for the new MBI.
“We’re taking this step to protect our seniors from fraudulent use of Social Security numbers which can lead to identity theft and illegal use of Medicare benefits,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said. “We want to be sure that Medicare beneficiaries and health care providers know about these changes well in advance and have the information they need to make a seamless transition.”
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.
CMS testified May 23 before the U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means Subcommittee on Social Security and the U.S. House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology, addressing CMS’s comprehensive plan for the removal of Social Security numbers and transition to MBIs.
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.
Work on this important initiative began many years ago and was accelerated following passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. CMS will assign all Medicare beneficiaries a new, unique MBI number which will contain a combination of numbers and uppercase letters. Beneficiaries will be instructed to safely and securely destroy their current Medicare cards and keep the new MBI confidential. Issuance of the new MBI will not change the benefits a Medicare beneficiary receives.
CMS is committed to a successful transition to the MBI for people with Medicare and for the health care provider community. CMS has a website, www.cms.gov/medicare/ssnri/index.html, dedicated to the Social Security Removal Initiative, where providers can find the latest information and sign-up for newsletters.
CMS is also planning regular calls as a way to share updates and answer provider questions before and after new cards are mailed, beginning in April 2018.