New Medicare cards will start arriving in April

Published Feb 25, 2018 at 9:00am

Over the past year I have been providing some information on the release of the new Medicare cards that will replace all of the current cards.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has just released the full guidelines and plans for the creation and distribution of these cards. For those interested in more detailed information and/or following the progress of this project go to Much of the information for this article has been drawn from various sections of this site. Because this new card project will affect every Medicare recipient, this entire column is being devoted to their creation and release. 

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 requires CMS to remove Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from all Medicare cards by no later than April 1, 2019. In order to accomplish this, CMS is creating what will be known as new Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBI) which will replace the current Social Security Numbers (SSN) that have been used since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

These new MBI numbers will be used for all Medicare transactions, such as determining eligibility for service, billing and claim status. 

The MBI numbers with be used by the Social Security Administration, the Railroad Retirement Board, as well as all State Medicaid agencies, health care providers and health plans. Each person enrolled in Medicare will be assigned a new MBI and will be mailed a new Medicare card. Also, as with your SSN, the new MBI numbers will be protected as Personally Identifiable Information by the government.

Why are new Medicare cards being created? The major reason for removing the SSN from all Medicare cards and replacing them with these new MBI numbers is to fight identity theft. The MACRA Act was passed by Congress in response to complaints from individual constituents as well as advocacy groups who were becoming increasingly concerned about identity theft. The same advice from CMS about the old cards applies equally to the new cards, that is, only carry your Medicare card when you are going to use it.

When will these cards be released? Moving to these new MBI numbers will require changes in the Medicare systems as well as changes on the part of all health care providers. CMS will begin mailing cards to all Medicare beneficiaries during April of this year. The process must be completed by April 1, 2019. The cards will be mailed in phases by geographic location. CMS will be testing all their systems using the new MBI numbers over the next year.

What will happen during the transition period? The period beginning on April 1, 2018 and ending on December 31, 2019 will be referred to as the transition period. During this period, beneficiaries will be able to use either their current Medicare (Social Security) number or their new MBI number. However, beginning January 1, 2020 only MBI numbers will be accepted. This means that starting January 1, 2020 all claims must filed using the MBIs no matter what date the service was performed. 

What will the MBI number and cards look like? The MBI numbers will be very different from the current Medicare (Social Security) numbers. The new MBI numbers will be 11 characters in length, two more than the current Medicare numbers. The numbers will be made up of both numbers and uppercase letters. No special characters will be used. A sample number being used by CMS for training purpose is 1EG4-TE5-MK72. Each MBI is unique and randomly generated. The letters are “non-intelligent which, according to CMS, means that the letters have no hidden or special meaning. 

The look of the new cards will also change. The 1-800-MEDICARE phone number, sex/gender of the beneficiary and the signature line have all been removed from the face of the card. The information on the back side of the card will also been changed.  

What do these new Medicare cards mean for people with Medicare? First, the new MBI will not change Medicare benefits in any way. When people with Medicare receive their new cards, they can start using them immediately. However, beneficiaries should keep in mind that providers are also making the change so they may need to provide both their old Medicare number as well as the new MBI through the end of next year.

Once beneficiaries receive their new Medicare cards with an MBI, the new number will be used to enroll in Medicare Advantage and/or Part D drug plans. During the transition period you can use either your current number or new MBI number to file an appeal.  

Where can I get more information about the new Medicare cards? If you have questions about your new cards, or if you have any problems with the conversation related to your new MBI, The Oneida County Office for the Aging/Continuing Care/NY Connects Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance program (HIICAP) offices can assist you. HIICAP provides all their services at no cost to all Medicare beneficiaries. HIICAP offices are found at the following locations:

Ava Dorfman Senior Citizens Civic Center, 305 E. Locust St., with hours of operation on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Again, while consumers are seen on a “first come, first served” basis you may call the Dorfman Center at 315-337-1648 to see if there are long wait times.

North Utica Senior Citizens Community Center, 50 Riverside Drive, Utica with hours of operation on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consumers are counseled on a “first come, first served” basis. However, if you want to call ahead to see how busy the office is you may call the center’s HIICAP program at 315-724-8680.

HIICAP services are provided by Oneida County Office for Aging and Continuing Care/NY Connects. Anyone with questions about your new MPI or any other Medicare related questions can call the HIICAP program directly at 315-798-5456 and press 4 in the choice list. It will direct you to someone who can assist you.

Dr. William Lane is the owner of William Lane Associates, a gerontological firm which located in Homer. He writes a monthly column on HIICAP related issues for the Oneida County OFA and Continuing Care/New York Connects.