Your Medicare Card: Go Ahead, Leave Home Without It!

What’s in seniors’ wallets? Most likely, a Medicare card that leaves you vulnerable to scams and fraud.

It’s a peculiar anachronism in this era of digital insecurity: Social Security numbers are printed on every Medicare card, and the back of the card instructs seniors to carry it with them at all times. (Medicare’s identification number is called the Health Insurance Claim Number, but your HICN is your Social Security number.)

If a card falls into the wrong hands, the result could be identity theft and fraudulent benefit claims submitted to the Medicare system on your behalf. While the federal government has recognized the risk for years, and bills have been introduced in Congress to compel removal of the numbers, nothing much has happened.


Unfortunately, the problem isn’t likely to be solved anytime soon. Retired Police Chief Dennis McIntosh and current Officer of Security for Baylake Bankoffers these tips for keeping your Medicare card out of the hands of fraudsters.

— Don’t carry the card.Hesuggests that you ignore, for now, Medicare’s guidance to carry your card at all times. It’s unnecessary in most cases.

Most healthcare providers have their patients in their electronic systems and know how to bill you. But if you really don’t feel comfortable not having it with you, then make a photocopy and scratch out all but the last four digits, and carry that instead. That should be enough to meet their billing protocols.

Seniors worry that they’ll need their cards in an emergency. Emergency personnel can’t refuse to provide care until you show an insurance card. It’s true that you’d need to come up with billing information before leaving a hospital, but that doesn’t mean you won’t receive care.

Despite Medicare’s insistence that seniors keep their cards with them at all times, the Social Security Administration cautions beneficiaries not to routinely carry their cards “or other documents that display your number,” in a guide to identity theft prevention (

— Give the number in advance. If you make an appointment with a new healthcare provider, provide your HICN over the phone, suggests Leslie Fried, director of the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment at the National Council on Aging. “It really shouldn’t be necessary to carry your card into the doctor’s office in this day and age,” she says.

— Review your Medicare summary. Your quarterly summary notice lists all procedures and services you have received under Part A (hospitalization) and outpatient services (Part B). If you see something that isn’t familiar, it could be a sign your identity has been breached.



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