Beginning next month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will begin sending out new Medicare cards. The major reason for this is to cut down on identity theft and medical identity theft, growing problems for seniors since the old cards contained their social security numbers and were low hanging fruit for con artists. Now the question to be asked is, why in the world would social security numbers be on a card that is used in places like medical offices and pharmacies where employees and vendors may have access to? Well, there was a good reason and let's look at the history of Medicare.
The Medicare program began in 1965 under the Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson. The use of Social Security numbers began in 1936 as a result of the passage of the social security Act of 1935. The use of these numbers was a way to track the American worker’s wages for the purpose of computing the benefits they earned. Using the number on the Medicare card was to facilitate a smooth transition between government agencies and increase efficiency.
This seemed to work until the internet came into play and a huge explosion of identity and medical identity theft cases started to emerge. For the purpose of this blog and because we are talking about Medicare, we will focus on medical identity theft.
Medical identity theft happens when someone uses a person’s social security number to receive medical care. In fact, according to the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, more then two million Americans have been victims of medical identity theft. Some of the signs of medical identity theft include:
Getting a bill for medical services you did not receive
You begin getting calls from debt collectors about bills you have no idea where they have come from
Your health insurance company calls you and say you have reached your benefit limits
You have been denied insurance because of a condition you have never been diagnosed with
In 2006, the cases of medical identity theft had become so widespread that a task force was created to investigate this problem. At that time, there were 42 million Medicare cards being used that displayed the owner’s social security number and today, according to the New York Times, 4500 people a day are signing up for Medicare. As a result of that task force, a new law was passed in 2015 giving CMS until 2019 to issue new cards to recipients. Here is a look at the new card versus the old card.
The first step of this law was to issue the new cards to every new Medicare enrollee and from there, to all Medicare users by April, 2019. This is a wonderful step to address fraud but as in all new laws and government programs, scammers have found a way to take advantage of those affected, primarily seniors and the elderly.
The cards are being released in waves with people in some states receiving their cards before those in other states. The first wave begins this April through June, according to the schedule. Below is the mailing schedule released by CMS:
So with this information released, the scammers have started to pick out its victims. In a report from television station KXAN in Austin, Texas, they stated that several seniors have started to receive calls from con artists saying that they are from the Social Security Administration. KXAN cited the case of 71 year old Jack Schmitt who started to receive calls asking for money.
Here’s what they say: “You’re going to be getting a new card,” said the retired business owner. “But, before you get your new card, they can provide that for you for 15 or 20 or pick a number dollars.”
Another scam, according to KXAN, asks seniors to mail in their old card before they can get their replacement card. Experts warn falling for this one opens the door for identity theft.
“It’s like they assume that because I turned 65, I’m immediately stupid,” Schmitt said “When you realize immediately that this is not good. This is not correct. This is probably a scam. We just end the call."
Watch KXAN's special investigation into the scams surrounding the new social security cards.
So here are some tips to remember about the new Medicare cards:
Medicare will never call you and ask for money. This is a government program paid for with tax dollars you have contributed during your work history.
Never give anyone your numbers over the phone. As stated earlier, one of the scams is to call and ask for you to mail your old cards to a certain address. They may also state they need your old medicare number. Again, Medicare will never call and ask for numbers. Think about it this way, they issue the cards so they already know your numbers.
If someone calls you to discuss any “new benefits” with your new card, hang up. There are no new benefits with the new cards.
If a call comes and states that you may be in danger of having your benefits cancelled, hang up. These are benefits you worked and paid for.
Scammers will ask for payments in the form of gift cards, money orders or wired money. Medicare does not accept any of these forms of payment.
CMS has issued their own checklist on what you should know about the new Medicare cards:
Your new card will automatically come to you. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up to date. If you need to update your address, visit your mySocial Security account.
Your new card will have a new Medicare Number that’s unique to you, instead of your Social Security Number. This will help to protect your identity.
Your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.
Mailing takes time. Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s.
Your new card is paper, which is easier for many providers to use and copy.
Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage Plan ID card is your main card for Medicare—you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, you also may be asked to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry this card too.
Doctors, other health care providers and facilities know it’s coming and will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care, so carry it with you.
Only give your new Medicare Number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
If you forget your new card, you, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your Medicare Number online.
For more information about changes to your Medicare card go to go.medicare.gov/newcard. And if you think you may be a victim of a scam, report it to the FTC or contact our offices for advice on this problem.
Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.