HELP LINE: New Medicare card numbers are coming

I WANT TO go back over a couple of things today, because a lot of you are contacting me about them, asking me to go back over them.

Your wish is my command (kinda, sorta …).

First, let’s do the new Medicare card thing.

I understand that this is a big deal, because it affects thousands (OK, millions) of us, so we might want to get this right.

The feds finally figured out that having our Social Security numbers as our Medicare numbers might not be the brightest possible idea.

Why? Well, because it just makes it that much easier for the bad guys to get our Social Security numbers and … boom. We’ve just become the victims of identity theft.

The fact is that a lot of people like me have been … complaining about this for years, for exactly that reason, so we’re finally getting around to doing something about it.

Start receiving new cards

We’ll start receiving our new Medicare cards in April of next year, and that will go on through April of 2019, so if you don’t get a new one next April, don’t freak. If you haven’t gotten a new one by April 15, 2019, freak out.

One way to avoid needing to freak is to ensure that Medicare has our current mailing address.

If you’re not sure that’s the case, you can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) or you can go online to account and handle it that way.

In my personal, unsolicited opinion, it’s just smart to set up a “my account” with Social Security, but to each their own.

So, obviously, these new cards will not have our Social Security numbers. What they will have is a shiny, new unique Medicare number, made up of numbers and letters.

These new numbers will have non-intelligent identifiers (I know, I could make a few cracks, too, but …).

Some of us know that our current Medicare numbers use different letters to convey certain messages about our Medicare status. That’s history.

The letters in these new numbers will not convey anything to anybody. They’re just random characters.

We can start using these new cards/numbers as soon as we get them, but we all have to be using them by Jan. 1, 2020.

Call your medical providers

My suggestion would be that, as soon as get them, we contact our various medical providers and share our new, little secret.

True, it won’t be a crisis until Jan. 1, 2020, but I, for one, don’t need to schedule a crisis for Jan. 1, 2020, so that’s what I’ll do.

I’m looking at a press release from the feds.

Here’s what it says: “Medicare will never call and ask for personal information before sending new cards, so don’t share your Medicare Number or other personal information if someone calls and asks for it.”

That’s true.

And I’ve been going on about that for years, right?

“… Medicare will not call you and ask for personal information, ever.” Right.

Except that, I just heard that Medicare has contracted with somebody-or-other to do some kind of beneficiary survey, and guess how they’re going to do it?

Right! By phone. I know.

Personally, should I be the lucky recipient of a phone call, I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to do the same thing that I’ve been doing for a very long time — hang up.

Perhaps I’ll be blackballed from future surveys, but I’ll take my chances.

Because I’d rather risk that than shooting my mouth off to bad guys.

And, speaking of bad guys …

A gal I work with received a priority mail envelope the other day.

In it, she found what appeared to be a cashier’s check for $2,300, in reply to a box store survey, which she never took.

She was instructed to keep this a secret (I’ll bet), go purchase a gift card (or some such) from said “box store,” cash the check, keep $200, fill out a survey about the store’s customer service and send the balance of the check somewhere else.


Mercifully, my colleague was smart enough to do nothing other than report it, because she would have been ripped-off for a healthy chunk of change, so … happy ending.

And the rest of us are thinking, “Really? Who’d fall for something like that?”

You might be surprised by how many of us do. So, what can you do?

If something looks weird, ask

Well, if you get something weird in the mail or in email or whatever, and you think it’s weird but it looks awfully official, run it by someone else such as family, a friend, whomever, just ask “Does this make any sense to you?”

That’s just a way of avoiding listening to the noise in our minds and getting back to some reality.

Besides, I think we have enough to think about, just contemplating the phrase “non-intelligent Identifiers …”


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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