HELP LINE: There are things to remember about new Medicare cards

I GET A lot of lists from this or that entity, agency, institution or organization detailing any number of things we should remember or do (or, in some cases, think), secure in the notion that none of us have anything else to do.

For the most part, one of the first things on my list is usually: Dispose of irrelevant lists.

Sometimes, though, they make sense for those of us who actually have lives.

One of these recently showed up from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) — aka the feds — seductively titled, “10 things to know about your new Medicare card,” which got my attention.

Do we all remember what’s going on here?

Yes, the feds finally figured out that having our Social Security numbers on our Medicare cards might not be the brightest thing that anyone ever thought of, so they figured out a way to substitute random letters and numbers.

Thus, we’re all going to be receiving new Medicare cards with new Medicare numbers.

Let’s see if I can boil down this list to what we actually need to know.

• The new cards will start appearing in April.

Washington state is scheduled for after June 2018, and they are being mailed out in random sequence, in hopes of befuddling the bad guys, so if you don’t get yours when your neighbor does, don’t freak.

If you don’t get yours by April 2019, then freak.

Then, call 800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048), because something went wrong.

• As soon as you get the new one, destroy (as in, shred, burn or do something equally hostile to) your old one.

Remember, it has your Social Security number on it, right?

And, yes, your doctor and whoever else on your health care team knows this is happening, so they won’t be startled or confused, but you do want to give the new card to them the next time you go for an appointment.

If you forget it, medical providers have magical ways of looking it up, but we’ll have a nicer day if we don’t forget it.

• By the way, we, too, will be able to look up our new Medicare number online, but I don’t know how to do that (yet) and I doubt that my guessing will help, so we’ll wait to see.

Yes, in order to present the new card to your health care folks, you’ll have to have it with you, right?

In fact, the feds recommend that we (now) carry the new card with us, so we’ll have it when we need it, and because they’ll no longer have our Social Security numbers on them, where’s the harm, right?

• Right. Except, these are our Medicare numbers, and if bad guys get them, bad things can happen, so let’s exercise a modicum of caution in where we keep them, who we show them to, etc.

• Our new cards will be paper, as opposed to the bulkier (although, more substantial) cards that we’ve all grown accustomed to.

Why? Well, they’ll be much easier for your medical providers to copy and (of course) it’s much cheaper.

Besides, (my list says), we’ll be able to print our own replacement cards online whenever we want to (more will be revealed), so no worries.

Well, OK, assuming that we all have computers, internet access and printers, etc.

But, one crisis at a time.

And, all of those things are available at our offices, so if you don’t have them, we can help.

• Finally, if you happen to be one of the few folks in our area who is actually on a Medicare Advantage Plan (aka, “Part C” or “Medicare Health Plan”), your Medicare Advantage Plan ID card is your main card for Medicare, so hang on to it and use it just like you always have.

Yes, you might be asked to show your new Medicare card, too, so you could need both. You’re special.

That’s it.

We boiled it down from 10 to six.

Most of us don’t really need to do anything. Just wait for it to show up and follow this magic list.

That said, I realize that a lot of us get a lot of vaguely Medicare-related junk mail, adorned with all kinds of eagles and flags and banners, and many of us have gotten pretty good at just shredding them, so be careful that you don’t reflexively shred the important one.

What will happen if you do?

Well, apparently, we’ll go online and print you a new one. How will we do that?

I don’t know. I’m waiting for that list.


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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