Oregon seniors should receive new Medicare cards in the mail this month as part of a federal effort to combat identity theft and billing fraud.

The Medicare cards will no longer show a person’s Social Security number but will use a unique, randomly-assigned Medicare identifier consisting of numbers and letters.

“The use of Social Security numbers, especially when coupled with other sensitive information like name and birth date, is sort of inherently vulnerable to identity theft and other fraudulent activity if that information gets into the wrong hands,” said John Hammarlund, regional administrator of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Seattle office.

Beneficiaries who sign up for Medicare after April 1 will get a new card, while replacement cards are being sent out in waves, starting with the Northeast region. Oregon and several Western states are part of the second wave.

Miranda Mathae, Southern Oregon field officer for the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance, urged seniors to update their address with the Social Security Administration if they’ve recently moved.

“If it’s not, it’s not going to get to you,” she said. “Federal mail cannot be forwarded ... and your benefits could be suspended until they can verify your new address.”

If beneficiaries don’t receive a new card by the start of July, they should call 1-800-Medicare, Hammarlund said, and continue to use their old card in the meantime. Older cards can be used through the end of 2018, and health care providers will be able to bill Medicare with the Social Security number or the new identifier this year.

“We’ve been working with the provider community for over a year to make sure their systems can recognize the new numbers, with lots of testing with us, both providers and insurers to make sure this goes smoothly,” Hammarlund said.

Medicare beneficiaries are urged to safely and securely destroy their old Medicare cards, by shredding them or cutting them into small pieces, as soon as the new cards arrive. The new cards are printed paper, which allows people to print a replacement card if they’ve created an online account at MyMedicare.gov. Hammarlund recommended against laminating the card, as that could make it harder for providers to scan or photocopy for their records.

The new cards do not replace the Medicare Advantage cards issued when someone signs up for a health maintenance organization or preferred provider organization, and beneficiaries should continue to carry both cards to their appointments.

Medicare officials also warned seniors to be careful about potential scams related to the roll-out of the new cards.

“If anyone calls a beneficiary and says they need to pay for the card, or they ask for financial information, that’s clearly a scam. If somebody calls and asks for someone’s Social Security number, or bank account number, that’s a scam,” Hammarlund said. “They should know that Medicare is not going to uninvitingly call beneficiaries. We don’t do that.”

He urged beneficiaries receiving such calls to hang up immediately and call 1-800-Medicare to report it.

“We also don’t want anybody to trick Medicare beneficiaries into believing that the fact that they’re getting a new card somehow is going to change their benefits,” Hammarlund said. “It’s a new card, but it’s the same Medicare and the same benefits.”

Mathae said her office has heard reports of some seniors getting a fake Medicare card in the mail, with a form asking them to confirm receipt and asking for personal information. That’s a sure sign of a scam, she said, Medicare won’t ask you to send them your information.

The removal of the Social Security numbers, she said, should help protect Medicare beneficiaries. One in four seniors is victimized by financial scams, and Oregon is in the top three states for identity theft.

“With the old Medicare card, it was like having a master key to all of your financial identity and your medical identity,” Mathae said. “With the new card not having that Social Security number on it, it’s like having a master key to your health identity.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2162, mhawryluk@bendbulletin.com