New Medicare Beneficiary ID Cards

AAFP Scores Win as CMS Activates Medicare ID Look-up Tool

June 19, 2018 02:22 pm Sheri Porter

CMS recently came out with some positive news related to the ongoing release of new ID cards to Medicare beneficiaries. And it means kudos go to the AAFP.

[win-win situation with yellow arrows]

Family physicians are well aware of the fact that CMS is rolling out new Medicare cards to replace the existing cards as the agency assigns all beneficiaries Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) numbers to be used in place of their Social Security numbers.

According to a posting in the agency's June 7 MLN Connects,(www.cms.gov) CMS has now activated its new MBI look-up tool, which is available through all Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs).

Importantly, the AAFP pushed back hard when CMS originally announced that physicians could only get the new MBI numbers directly from patients.

AAFP Coding and Compliance Strategist Barbara Hays, C.P.C., told AAFP News that the Academy voiced its concerns about that strategy during multiple stakeholder calls with CMS.

"As the AAFP's representative on those calls, I, along with personnel from many physician offices and medical societies nationwide, strongly asserted similar opinions that it was unreasonable to think that physician offices would be able to get MBI numbers from beneficiaries," said Hays.

Drawing on her years of experience working in physician clinics, Hays recalled that many patients didn't carry their Medicare cards with them and, all too often, would discard any new cards they received in the mail -- erroneously thinking the cards were duplicates.

"Patients would see the red, white and blue graphics on the card and throw it away. They wouldn't differentiate that it was a new card," said Hays. "Unfortunately, this still happens every day all across the country."

According to Hays, the AAFP insisted at every possible opportunity that CMS "must provide physicians with a way to look up these numbers." Anything less would have had a disastrous impact on physicians and their patients, she said.

"What we specifically told CMS on those phone calls was that without a way to find patients' MBI numbers, they would be left without health care." Other parties on those calls vehemently supported our assessment, said Hays.

Think of it this way, she added: "Without MBI numbers, physicians could not file claims or get paid for services; physicians' inability to provide health care services to patients would effectively halt the health care cycle."

Hays called the announcement about the implementation of the MBI look-up tool "a win not only for physician offices, but for the health care industry as a whole."

Physicians can access the tool using their MAC's online portal. Those who don't yet have access to their MAC's portal can sign up online.(www.cms.gov)  

To find a patient's MBI number, physicians just submit -- through the tool -- four data elements about a patient. "We will return the MBI if we have already mailed the new Medicare card," CMS said in its outreach to physicians.

Remember, Medicare is mailing the new cards in phases by geographic location.(www.cms.gov) More details are available in a Special Edition MLN Matters article.(www.cms.gov)  

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Pleased with CMS Progress on Medicare ID Card Initiative
Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers to Replace Social Security Numbers

(6/1/2017)