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MANAGING THE OFFICE

New law means changes to Medicare cards, challenges for medical offices

A new bill, signed into law by President Obama in April 2015, which addresses the way physicians are paid for treating Medicare patients, has another provision that affects medical practices.

A section of the bill indicates that Social Security account numbers must not be “displayed, coded or embedded on the Medicare card.”

Currently, a Medicare patient’s Social Security number, plus one or two additional letters that identifies beneficiary type, is his or her Medicare ID.

The new law means Medicare will have to issue new cards to all Medicare beneficiaries—currently more than 50 million individuals, according to The New York Times.

Additionally, more than 4,500 people sign up each day for Medicare; and, by 2025, Medicare enrollment is expected to include 74 million people.

The transition from current cards to new cards, and current account numbers to new account numbers, will take place over a period of eight years. Medicare officials have up to four years to start issuing cards with new identifiers, and four more years to reissue cards held by current beneficiaries.

Why the change?

Perhaps a better question is, why were Social Security numbers used in the first place?

Indeed, in 2012, a senior citizen posed these questions to AARP, the membership organization for Americans 50 years of age and older: “Why is the ID number on my Medicare card the same as my Social Security number? I need to carry the card in my wallet, so what can I do to prevent identify theft?”

Proponents of legislative change have long recognized the risk the current cards pose for senior citizens.

Now, “motivated by the proliferation of electronic health records and a rash of recent cyberattacks, including a data breach at Anthem, one of the nation’s largest insurers,” according to The New York Times, Congress has taken action.

While the change is a positive one, during the lengthy transition, medical offices will face recordkeeping and payment processing challenges.


Related reading:

What to do when patients ask that you don’t disclose services to their health plan


How to get paid for filling out patient forms


HIPAA is now striking small offices; the first hit is on mobile devices


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