Medicare's New Cards Increase Patient Data Security

APRIL 23, 2018
Medicare has finally decided to update their cards for members qualifying in the United States. The ubiquitous red, white, and blue card will undergo a new sleek modern look, but that's not the only reason to upgrade the cards for more than 60 million US citizens.
 
Instead, the issue is security. For those not familiar with Medicare Claim Numbers, it is currently the patient's social security number. In an age with the increasingly digital use of patient identification to conduct business, and purchases, it comes as no surprise that many people have sought to take advantage of Medicare members under the presumption that they are helping them. Take, for instance, calling a patient claiming you are a medical agency looking to get data for some benefit or other information? So what do you need, address, DOB, and Medicare number (which is the Social Security number) and then you have a lot of information to use on that patient. And with that, a basic scam can be conducted.
 
So AARP and other organizations representing their patient groups have for years been clamoring for an upgrade—or rather a safer process. So Medicare is rolling out these new cards, which have mostly the same information on them, but now instead of the Medicare Claim Number being the Social Security number, it is a randomly generated 11-character mix of letters and numbers. This will replace current patients' Medicare numbers. 
 
The Medicare.gov website details what members need to know, but it boils down to the following:
  • The card will be automatically sent, and nothing needs to be updated as long as your address hasn't changed. If you know someone with Medicare that recently moved, you should make sure they have updated their address (the update needs to take place with Social Security).
  • Coverage does not change.
  • The rollout for 60 million people will take time, so I would caution this will take a year to see people get their cards.
  • Members should destroy their old cards as soon as they get their new ones. The cards are paper stock so that they can be copied easier at offices.
  • Providers may be able to look up the customer's number online, if needed for a lost card.
  • If on an HMO or PPO, the Medicare Advantage PLan ID card is still the primary card, but the new Medicare card may be needed, depending on specific events.
Hopefully, this rollout will cut down on the vulnerability of Medicare customers getting scammed. Key information to pass onto patients is that Medicare never asks (out of the blue) for personal or private information, or the card number. So if someone does that randomly, saying they are from Medicare, it should raise a red flag right away.
 
If a pharmacy does process Medicare for Part B, then this will likely creep up on its patients this year, as the new cards arrive based on the member ID changing. If a pharmacist notices an issue, make sure the patient provides the new card to verify the number, and if not they can try to pull the information up online (as long as the patient has enough information to help locate the number in the database).
 
Reference
Your Medicare Card. Medicare website. www.medicare.gov/forms-help-and-resources/your-medicare-card.html. Accessed April 23, 2018.


Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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