Medicare ID cards soon will be more secure for America's seniors. That's the upshot of a May 30 announcement from CMS(www.cms.gov) that the agency is on schedule to meet a congressional deadline for removing Social Security numbers from all Medicare beneficiary ID cards by April 2019.
New cards -- which CMS will begin mailing to beneficiaries in April 2018 -- will sport a series of randomly assigned numbers and upper case letters dubbed the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI).
The CMS update signaled welcome progress in the eyes of the AAFP, which has been tracking work on the initiative with a wary eye toward possible disruption to family physician practices due to back-office billing headaches.
In a written response(8 page PDF) to the final 2017 Medicare physician fee schedule dated Dec. 22, 2016, the AAFP specifically asked CMS to, among other things, review current provider portals before making beneficiaries solely responsible for sharing newly issued MBIs with their physicians and other medical professionals.
And in numerous phone calls over many months, the AAFP expressed concerns about implementation of the new system; in response, some important "asks" have been addressed by CMS.
For instance, providers and beneficiaries will have access to secure online tools that will enable them to quickly look up MBIs.
In addition, CMS created a web page(www.cms.gov) dedicated to the initiative and is planning regular provider calls in coming months as a means of sharing updates and answering provider questions.
In the press release, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, M.P.H., said the removal of Social Security numbers was all about combating fraud and identity theft, and protecting American taxpayer dollars.
"We're taking this step to protect our seniors from fraudulent use of Social Security numbers, which can lead to identity theft and illegal use of Medicare benefits," said Verma.
CMS pointed out that identity theft among seniors was on the rise and cited Justice Department statistics that show an increase in such incidents from 2.1 million in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2014.
Verma noted the importance of preparing both beneficiaries and health care professionals for the changes ahead so all parties could experience a "seamless transition" from the use of Social Security numbers to MBIs.
CMS has ensured a 21-month transition period during which physicians and other health care professionals can use either a beneficiary's Social Security number-based Health Insurance Claim Number or the MBI.
Dec. 31, 2019, marks the end of that transition period, after which all physicians and other health care professionals must use MBIs for all billing and other Medicare transactions.
Related AAFP News Coverage
2017 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule
AAFP Reminds CMS of Issues Not Addressed in Final Rule