Medicare to Take Social Security Numbers Off Cards

Mary Caffrey

CMS will take Social Security numbers off Medicare cards as part of a plan to combat identify theft and fraud, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced today. The new cards will begin mailing in April 2018 and will meet Congress’ deadline for replacing all cards by April 2019, according to a statement from the agency.

“We’re taking this step to protect our seniors from fraudulent use of Social Security numbers, which can lead to identify theft and illegal use of Medicare benefits,” Verma said. “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.

The provision to remove Social Security numbers from the cards, and instead pay providers through a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) was included in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act passed in 2015. CMS’ plan calls for allowing providers to use the MBI or the Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number for 21 months, through December 31, 2019.

However, a host of physician groups, led by the American Medical Association, are concerned about the potential for older patients to lose or forget the new cards when they come for appointments. On May 11, 2017, they submitted a letter to Verma asking that the change go through the traditional rulemaking process, so that a backup method for obtaining a patient’s MBI could be created.

“CMS has said that, for security purposes, it will not provide information on when new identification cards will be sent to beneficiaries, which means practices will not know when to ask their patients for their new card,” the letter stated. It goes on to warn that some beneficiaries may be confused and throw the card away.

There’s no question that Medicare fraud is a huge and costly problem. A nationwide sweep for healthcare fraud in June 2016 netted 301 arrests for $900 million in false billings, much of it in Medicare and Medicaid. While seniors are sometimes participants in schemes, they are often unwitting victims, with their information stolen and then used to bill for services or medical equipment they never received.

CMS said in its announcement that this kind of crime against people age 65 and older is becoming more common, despite increased efforts to combat it. Incidents against seniors rose from 2.1 million to 2.6 million between 2012 and 2014, according to the Department of Justice. Besides financial loss and damage to credit ratings, these incidents lead to incorrect information being placed in a person’s health record, which can harm care.

Despite concerns raised by doctors’ groups, CMS said it is committed to offering regular updates and answering queries as the transition unfolds.
 
 
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