New Medicare cards are in the mail and identity thieves are going to hate them

Here is an example of what the new Medicare card will look like. Recipients in Fresno County are about to receive the new cards in the mail.
Here is an example of what the new Medicare card will look like. Recipients in Fresno County are about to receive the new cards in the mail. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

New Medicare cards that don't bear Social Security numbers will be arriving in mailboxes soon in the central San Joaquin Valley.

The new cards will display a random set of 11 characters of numbers and letters, and should help deter identity theft and Medicare fraud. Social Security numbers have been removed from the cards at the mandate of Congress, said Lorelei Piantedosi, associate regional administrator for the Centers for Region IX of the U.S. Medicare & Medicaid Services..

Congress gave the center until April 2019 to meet the new-card mandate, and Californians enrolling in Medicare for the first time began receiving them this month.

Mailings will begin to the rest of the state's Medicare beneficiaries at the end of May. In Fresno County, 140,592 people will be getting the new cards. In Madera County, 25, 069 will have cards mailed to them; 36,337 in Merced, 62,615 in Tulare and 17,422 in Kings County.

When the new card arrives in the mail, the old card should be shredded or cut up, Piantedosi said.

Mailings of the new Medicare cards will take some time, and the card may not arrive at the same time as friends or relatives get theirs. If the new card does not arrive by April 2019, the beneficiary should contact Medicare at 800-633-4227. TTY users should call 877-486-2048.

The new cards will be made of paper, which is easier for providers to use for billing purposes, Piantedosi said. Beneficiaries who are on Medicare Advantage plans will get a new Medicare card, but they should hang on to Medicare Advantage cards. It's a good idea to have both cards when seeing a provider, she said.

People are encouraged to verify their mailing address with the Social Security Administration by going online to ssa.gov/myaccount. If you don't have an existing account, you can create a new one, Piantedosi said. Make sure your address is up-to-date, she said.

But do not give any Medicare information to people who call seeking it over the telephone.

The Fresno County District Attorney's office advises never share or confirm Medicare or Social Security numbers with anyone who calls on the telephone or make contact by email or in person, unless you've given them permission in advance. Medicare will never contact someone to ask for a Medicare number or other personal information or to send a new card. Medicare already has the information.

Kayza Hebrard of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program is advising seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries to be alert to potential telephone scams involving the new cards.

One scam being reported locally involves a caller who claims to be from Medicare who says the call is to verify the beneficiary's' current Medicare number so a new card can be mailed. The caller is not from Medicare, and is trying to get the Social Security number that is on the old card, Hebrard said. "Medicare will never contact you for that information. Hang up. There's no reason to give out any information, not even your last name."

If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or Medicare fraud, you can report it to Senior Medicare Patrol, which is responsible for reporting and detecting fraud, Hebrard said. The telephone number is 855-613-7080.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter