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SHINE: Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone

Better protection for 57.7 million Medicare beneficiaries

Lorraine York Edberg headshotSHINE Regional Program Director Lorraine York-EdbergOn May 31, 2017, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a news article regarding changes coming in April of 2018 which will make changes to 57.7 million Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare is working to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards. Through this initiative, the CMS will prevent fraud, fight identity theft and protect the private healthcare and financial information of Medicare beneficiaries.

This initiative has been pushed and supported by congress since 2004 when the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, urged officials to curtail the use of Social Security numbers as identifiers. In 2007, the White House Office of Management and Budget told agencies to “eliminate the unnecessary collection and use of Social Security numbers” within two years. In 2015, President Obama requested $50 million as a down payment “to support the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards” for the 2016 budget. 

CMS will issue new Medicare cards with a new randomly-assigned number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) to replace the existing Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) both on the cards and in various CMS systems we use now. The new identifier will be 11 characters long and will include letters and numbers. Medicare will start mailing new cards to people with Medicare benefits in April 2018. All Medicare cards will be replaced by April 2019.

“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,” stated CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “We want to be sure that Medicare beneficiaries and healthcare providers know about these changes well in advance and have the information they need to make a seamless transition.”

Providers have also received information regarding these changes as they will need to adjust and make changes to their data management systems currently in place. There will also be a 21-month transition period where providers will be able to use either the MBI or the HICN during the transition.

This article was based on a CMS press release dated May 31, 2017. Click here for more information from CMS.

The SHINE program, (Serving Health Information Needs of Everyone… on Medicare), provides free, confidential and unbiased health insurance counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. To reach a trained and certified counselor in your area, contact the regional office at 1-800-498-4232 or 413-773-5555 or contact your local council on aging.