Why You Shouldn't Keep Your Medicare Card in Your Wallet

The cards still display Social Security numbers, and that won't change for a couple more years. Here's a workaround.

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Question: My Medicare card still has my Social Security number on it. I know it's a bad idea to keep anything that displays my Social Security number in my wallet. Wasn't the government supposed to stop putting Social Security numbers on Medicare cards?

Answer: ID thieves can do a lot of damage if they get your Social Security number, which is why we recommend that you don't carry your Social Security card or number in your wallet. But Medicare beneficiaries are in a tough spot because SSN-based health claim numbers still appear on their Medicare cards. President Obama signed a law in April 2015 requiring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove SSNs from Medicare cards, but the change is being implemented gradually: CMS will start sending the new cards in April 2018, but it will take until April 2019 before SSNs are removed from all cards.

Under the new system, a randomly generated 11-character Medicare Beneficiary Identifier will replace the SSN-based health claim number on your new Medicare card. You'll get information in 2018 letting you know about the new Medicare card, with an explanation of how to use the new card and what to do with your old one. You can start using your new Medicare card with the new number as soon as you receive it, and there should be a transition period in 2018 and 2019 when you can use either the old card or the new card. Keep an eye on this information page from Medicare (opens in new tab) for updates.

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Changing the health claim numbers for all Medicare beneficiaries is a big undertaking, and Medicare isn't issuing any new cards without an SSN yet. But there are ways you can protect yourself until the new cards are issued. Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, recommends that you carry your Medicare card only when you visit a health care provider for the first time, so the provider can make a copy for its file. Otherwise, he recommends making a copy of your card with the last four digits of your Social Security number blacked out and keeping that in your wallet in case of an emergency.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.