Should you carry your Medicare card in your wallet? In the past, the answer was “no” because your Medicare number used to be the same as your Social Security number (SSN). Experts have long warned against carrying your SSN in your wallet. If it is lost or stolen and gets into the wrong hands, you could be the victim of identity theft. Your personal information could be used fraudulently to obtain medical care or submit billing to Medicare in your name.
Today, your Medicare number is no longer your SSN. You can carry your Medicare card with you when you have a doctor’s appointment, but it still needs to be protected. Here’s what else you should know about the card, when you can expect to get it if you don’t have one yet—and what happens if you lose it.
What You Need to Know
Your Medicare card is proof that you have Medicare health insurance. Be sure to keep it in a safe place when you’re not using it.
Your card lets healthcare providers know whether you have Medicare Part A (“HOSPITAL”) or Part B (“MEDICAL”) or both, and the starting date of your coverage.
Replacing a lost card is easy: You can get a new one through your online Social Security account, by calling 1-800-772-1213, or by going to a local Social Security office.
When Should You Carry Your Medicare Card?
It’s a good idea to carry your Medicare card with you whenever you’re away from home. You will need to show it to doctors, hospital staff and other healthcare providers whenever you are seeking care.1
If you don’t want to bring it with you to a health appointment, you can call ahead and ask the doctor’s office if they’ll need a copy of the card.
What Do You Need to Know About Your Medicare Card?
Your red-white-and-blue paper Medicare card is similar to other health insurance cards you may have had in the past. It acts as proof that you have Medicare health insurance, and it provides the starting date(s) of your coverage.
Did You Know?
A red-white-and-blue paper Medicare card is mailed to adults who are turning 65 and enrolled in Medicare.
What Information Is on Your Medicare Card?
Besides your full name, your Medicare card includes your Medicare number as well as important information about the health insurance coverage to which you are entitled. This includes:2
- Medicare number—This is one of the most important pieces of information on your Medicare card. It’s what the billing department will use when it submits for reimbursement from Medicare. Your Medicare number used to be your Social Security number (SSN), but now it’s a more secure, randomly generated combination of 11 numerals and capital letters. It is confidential and should only be shared with people you trust.3
- Part A—If you have Part A, labeled HOSPITAL, you are entitled to care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, hospice care and home healthcare. The date your coverage begins is also included.4
- Part B—If you have Part B, labeled MEDICAL, you are entitled to medical care and preventive services. Your coverage starting date for Part B is also included.5
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) Plan, you will receive a separate ID card. If your plan covers prescription drugs, your MA card will include that information too. You should use your MA card as your primary Medicare card, but you should still keep your Medicare card in a safe place.
Good to Know
Your Medicare number is no longer your Social Security number, but a more secure combination of letters and numbers that helps protect you from identity theft.
When Do You Use Your Medicare Card?
If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you’ll use your Medicare card when you’re at the doctor’s office or in the hospital. (If you are enrolled in an MA plan, you’ll use your MA card). Billing specialists and providers will ask to see your card so they know whom to bill.
How Do You Get Your Medicare Card?
Your Medicare card is mailed to you once you have enrolled in Medicare. If you are automatically enrolled, you will receive the card about three months before your 65th birthday or after your 24th month of receiving disability benefits. If you are automatically enrolled and haven’t received your card, you can go online to request another one.
If you aren’t currently receiving Social Security benefits, you may have to sign up for Medicare either online, by phone (call Social Security’s Medicare 800 number at 1-800-772-1213) or in person at a Social Security office.
How Do You Replace Your Medicare Card?
You can get a new copy of your card by logging onto your online Social Security account. If you don’t have a Social Security account yet, you’ll have to create one to request a new card. Medicare beneficiaries can also call 1-800-772-1213 or contact their local Social Security office to receive a copy of their card.
According to the Health and Human Services Department, it can take about 30 days for your replacement card to arrive in the mail. You can also go online to your Medicare account and print a copy of your card from there until the official copy arrives.6
If you lost your Medicare card and believe that someone else might be using your number, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Can You Still See Your Doctor If You Lose Your Card?
You should be able to. If your doctor’s office has a recent copy of your Medicare card, they may already have your Medicare information on file. Many health practices update their records annually and may ask for your card.
Sometimes doctors can look up your Medicare information without requiring your card if they have access to the Medicare Administrative Contractor portal. You’ll need to provide your full legal name, birthday and SSN.7
How Do You Keep Your Card and Information Safe?
If you don’t want to carry the card with you when you’re not going to the doctor, you should keep it in a safe place at home, such as a locked desk drawer or a fireproof safe.
Be sure to put it back in the same place every time once you’re done using it. If you forget where you put it, you may need to get a replacement card.
Before 2018, Medicare cards used a subscriber’s Social Security number as their ID, which led to problems of identity theft. Now that your Medicare number is no longer your SSN, it’s less risky to lose the card. Nonetheless, you should still be careful about giving out your Medicare number to anyone other than a doctor, pharmacist, insurer or other healthcare professional. Protect it as you do your credit cards, since con artists are always trying to get Medicare beneficiaries’ personal information.8
Your Medicare card is your gateway to healthcare when you have Medicare. Try to keep your card in a safe place in your wallet where it won’t fall out. Make sure you monitor when your new card is coming, whether you’re new to Medicare or expecting a replacement card. If you receive a notice in the mail that seems odd, make sure it’s not a Medicare scam.9