Carrying your Medicare card safely
Everyone with health insurance needs some kind of proof that they are covered. Typically, this involves a healthcare card that displays some personal information that doctor's offices and hospitals will use. While insurance cards are largely considered to be a convenient way to access healthcare benefits, there are some potential risks for seniors who carry Medicare cards. Some of the information printed on Medicare cards could potentially leave holders open to identity theft.
Your Medicare card
Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you will receive a Medicare card in the mail. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you will be automatically enrolled for Medicare and your card will be mailed to you three months before your 65th birthday.
If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, the card will be red, white and blue. With Medicare Advantage Plans, there is a different card issued that displays additional benefits. Both cards need to be brought to doctor visits and pharmacies when picking up prescription medicines.
Your Medicare card is used in several different ways, but generally acts like any other insurance card. It contains your name, the starting date of your Medicare benefits, what parts of Medicare you have and your Social Security number. Most importantly, using your Medicare card at a doctor visit or for medical services will prove that you receive healthcare benefits for subsidized medical care. Cards are also used for prescription drug plans.
Carrying the card safely
On your Medicare card there is one piece of personal information that is not meant to be seen by anyone other than yourself: Your Social Security number. Your card displays your Social Security number as a means of identification. However, this could leave you vulnerable to identity theft if the card is lost or stolen. To prevent this, be sure to keep your card in a safe place at all times and do not share the information with anyone other than your doctor.
Recent legislation has been proposed to eliminate the inclusion of Social Security numbers on Medicare insurance cards, yet none have been enacted. The change would cost a large amount of taxpayer money, as it would require Medicare to change its identification system and introduce new cards to every Medicare policyholder. According to Medicare officials, there are 52 million U.S. adults with a Medicare card. The price to replace these cards and implement a new identity system is estimated to cost between $812 million and $845 million. Because of this high cost, it is unlikely the system will be changed anytime soon.
There are a few methods Medicare card holders use to better protect their identity. One such method is to make a photocopy of the Medicare card and remove the Social Security number or the last four digits on the copy. Instead of carrying around the original card, Medicare beneficiaries use their card copy, which still has the pertinent information, such as the holder's healthcare benefits, but does not pose a risk for identity theft. This method is also proof that the holder is a Medicare beneficiary.
Lost or stolen Medicare cards
If you lose your Medicare card or suspect it has been stolen, it is important to report the loss to the Social Security Administration immediately. If your card has been stolen, beware of Medicare fraud. Check your Medicare summary notices for charges of services you did not receive or doctor visits you did not request.
Replacing a lost or expired card is a fairly simple process that requires you to call the Social Security office or go through the process online. You are not required to go into a Social Security office to be issued a new card. It is important to report any changes such as a moving to a different area, as you will need a new Medicare card.
If you are issued a new Medicare card for any reason, such as expiration, make sure you destroy the old one. Once a new card is issued, the old one becomes inactive immediately. New cards are issued and should be received within 30 days of a request. If a replacement card or proof of healthcare insurance is needed in less than than 30 days, it is important to let the Social Security Administration know, as it will be able to provide you with proof that you are a Medicare beneficiary.
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