NORMAN — Dear Savvy Senior, I just turned 65 and received my Medicare card. I see that the ID number on my card is the same as my Social Security number, and on the back of the card, it tells me I need to carry it with me at all times. What can I do to protect myself from identify theft if my purse and Medicare card get stolen?
— Conflicted Beneficiary
Many people new to Medicare are surprised to learn that the ID number on their Medicare card is identical to their Social Security number (SSN). After all, we’re constantly warned not to carry our SSN around with us, because if it gets lost or stolen, the result could be identity theft.
But the Medicare ID is more than an identifier. It’s proof of insurance. Beneficiaries need to show their Medicare card at the doctor’s office and the hospital in order to have Medicare pay for treatment.
Over the years, many consumer advocates, have called for a new form of Medicare identification. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers Medicare, also acknowledges the problem, but so far nothing has been done.
One of the main reasons is because it would cost an estimated $255 to $317 million to fix it. And that’s just the direct cost to the federal government. It doesn’t include the expense for physicians and other healthcare providers to adjust their systems, or the cost to the states.
Other government health systems like the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense have already begun using ID numbers that are different from SSNs, but no one knows when Medicare will follow suit.
In the meantime, here are some tips offered by various consumer advocate groups that can help keep your Medicare card safe and out of the hands of fraudsters.