MEDICARE

In an effort to reduce the attempts of identity theft and/or fraudulent claims, the federal agency Medicare has revamped its signature identity card and is currently  mailing new ones to all those receiving benefits.

Cate Kortzeborn, Medicare’s deputy regional administrator for California, said the key change is the identification number for each beneficiary, as the agency looks for more and better ways to fight and eliminate fraudulent receipt and use of benefits.

“We are taking the Social Security numbers off the cards,” said Kortzeborn, whose office is in San Francisco. “Most people’s Medicare number [has been]  either their’s or the spouse’s social security number with a letter after it. So they’ve been carrying the gold standard for identity thieves in their pockets.

“We are replacing that old number with a new Medicare number that will have letters and numbers, and a number that will be unique to every individual.”

The agency started mailing out new cards nationally to its estimated 60 million beneficiaries in April. The mailings for the 5.7 million Californians who receive benefits — of which 1.5 million live in Los Angeles county — began in June.

A new card will be mailed automatically to those whose addresses are up-to-date in the system. The mailing can take up to a month.

“It’s a big task, and they’re being mailed in waves,” Kortzeborn said. “People are getting them at different times, though some have already gotten them. We want to reassure people that you will get yours. They are being mailed randomly, in part to help put the fraud risk at a minimum.

“If you have not gotten your card by the end of summer, call us.”

Once you have your new card, destroy the old one and begin using the new card immediately, Kortzeborn said. She added that a person’s benefits will not change; only the card is different.

“Take it to doctors and other providers, who will start asking for it,” Kortzeborn said. “There is a certain period of time they can still use either card, but people should start using the new one as soon as possible.”

Officials are also warning the public about scam artists attempting to get personal information about the new cards by phone or other means.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase of people trying to scam beneficiaries,” Kortzeborn said. “If anybody calls you up or knocks on your door and asks for personal info — never give it out. No one from Medicare will ever ‘cold’ call you or ask you.

“We have been hearing about people getting called and threatened with termination of their benefits. There have also been claims that an interim card is coming to them and costs $5. These [scam artists] are targeting the people least capable of dealing with them.”

She said that people can also go on the government website (www.medicare.gov) and set up an account at mymedicare.gov to help monitor and manage their benefits.

“And if you happen to lose your new card, you will be able to apply for a new one and print it out from that account at the website,” Kortzeborn said.

If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, Medicare officials say hang up and then report them to 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

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