The number one question I am asked is, “When is Medicare going to remove my social security number from my Medicare card?” After years of being the bearer of bad news, I am happy to report that changes are on the way.

Numerous public and private enterprises have utilized social security numbers (SSNs) as a reliable and unique piece of identifying information. However, the use of SSNs on items like insurance cards and driver’s licenses has become illegal. The Department of Health and Human Services has long advocated taking SSNs off of Medicare cards as well, but the estimated costs and effort involved have long prevented this update. That is, until President Obama signed The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This bill mandates that social security numbers are to be removed from Medicare cards by April 2019 and allocates funds for this transition. The distribution of new Medicare cards will begin in April 2018.

Why So Long?

Medicare and partnering agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, have used the social security number as beneficiaries’ Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) for years. To make the transition as smooth as possible, Medicare and their partner organizations must enable their systems to recognize the new randomly assigned Medicare policy numbers. Implementation of this process will, of course, take some time. Not to mention, distributing new cards to beneficiaries will also be a lengthy process.

What to Do in the Meantime?

Your current Medicare card still displays your social security number and will for some time until you receieve a new one. So, to protect yourself from identity theft, do not carry your original Medicare card in your wallet.

Use this alternative instead:

  1. Make a photocopy of the front and back of your Medicare card.
  2. Block out all but the last four digits of your social security number.
  3. Place your original Medicare card in a secure location.
  4. Carry the photocopy version in your wallet instead.

This option ensures that, if your wallet were to be lost or stolen, your social security number would not be exposed.

Going to the Doctor

When visiting your doctor, it is best to take your original Medicare card with you to ensure your products, services and medications billed through Medicare are covered. This is especially important for first visits with new health care providers and those that have policies prohibiting them from accepting photocopies as proof of Medicare coverage. On the other hand, many providers use electronic records, and your stored coverage information may suffice. To be sure, double check with your individual providers regarding their need for proof of insurance. If you do take your card to appointments, be sure to secure it as soon as you return home until the next visit.

What Happens in a Medical Emergency?

You may be wondering what would happen in the event of a medical emergency. Would the ER accept your photocopied Medicare card? Aren’t you supposed to provide your card to all health care providers? Will you be able to receive treatment? Fortunately, you are protected by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The EMTALA is a federal law that requires anyone going to an emergency department be stabilized and treated regardless of insurance status. If it is required, you can provide the emergency department with your original Medicare card at a later time.

It will take time for the government to implement and distribute these new cards, but using your loved one's current card (and your own) responsibly can help prevent fraudlent activity in the meantime.