Medicare program managers are preparing to begin a massive health insurance card conversion in April.
The program will start mailing new identification cards to Medicare enrollees, in an effort to get Social Security numbers off the cards, to give the enrollees a little extra protection against identity theft.
(Related: Identity Thieves Are Trying to Loot Annuities )
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is making the change to carry out part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, or MACRA. MACRA Section 501 requires CMS to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, and to replace the use of Social Security numbers with new, randomly generated Medicare beneficiary identifiers, or MBIs.
CMS hopes to replace all Medicare cards that use Social Security numbers with cards that use MBIs by April 2019.
CMS tested 10 different possible new card designs and consumers, and they ended up sticking with the same red, white and blue palette used in the current cards, according to a PowerPoint slidedeck aimed at agents, brokers and retiree health plan sponsors.
CMS also conducted a consumer card shift awareness survey. In September, most consumers surveyed said they liked the idea of getting Social Security numbers off of Medicare cards, but only 11% knew CMS was preparing to make that happen.
Here's a look at three ways the shift might be good for any financial professionals who work with clients over the age of 65 — or with the children of people over the age of 65 — even if those financial professionals have nothing whatsoever to do with selling Medicare plans.
1. Offer clients and prospects news they can use.
The Medicare card shift is a necessary evil that will make a confusing program a little more confusing.
Of course, any change that makes Medicare different, or more confusing, will give agents, brokers, financial planners and others a chance to explain the new system.
You can get information about the Medicare beneficiary identifier program, and the new cards, directly from CMS from the CMS New Medicare Card information page. The information page is available here.
CMS officials are actively encouraging partners, including agents and brokers, to fill consumer awareness gaps.
"Even among the few [that are] aware, there is little knowledge about timing," officials note.
CMS officials also want help with telling consumers what to do once they get their new cards.
(Slidedeck video (no audio): Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services)
The Medicare card shift will not have a direct effect on users of Medicare Advantage plans, because most use cards from the plan issuers, not the original Medicare cards. But CMS needs help with telling Medicare Advantage plan enrollees to continue using their current plan cards, according to a Medicare card messaging guidelines guide CMS prepared for employers and business partners.
Most adults in America either use Medicare or have relatives who use Medicare.
Financial professionals can use information about the shift in traditional ads, postal mailings, email newsletters, blog entries and social media posts.
Financial professionals who would have trouble creating their own content, or would have trouble getting any self-generated content through compliance, can simply re-use materials prepared by CMS.
2. Harness the power of video.
CMS has prepared at least two YouTube videos related to the shift.
One, Guard Your Guard, is aimed at consumers. In that video, consumers talk about the importance of guarding Social Security numbers. The consumers explain that new Medicare cards are coming soon.
In a second video, "CMS Provider ODF – SSNRI General External Presentation," give more technical nuts and bolts. In that video, which was prepared for health care providers, officials report, for example, that they will start by preparing Medicare beneficiary identifiers for 60 million active Medicare enrollees and 90 million deceased enrollees. The video posted on the CMS YouTube channel includes no soundtrack, but the slides in the audio provide useful background information about the card shift.
Financial professionals may find that embedding the "Guard Your Guard" video is a good way to engage consumers, and enrollees in employer clients' group plans.
Embedding the CMS Provider ODF" video, with the warning about the lack of audio, might be a good way to engage the employers' benefits and human resources managers.
3. Identity, and work on developing solutions for, possible problems.
One way financial professionals can set themselves apart as true Medicare specialists is to understand actual or potential problems with the card shift, and, possibly, to participate in efforts to detect the problems, tell policymakers about the problems, and use their detailed knowledge of how the world really works to shape the solutions to the problems.
Erin Fisher, for example, is president of FindMedicarePlans.com L.L.C., a Stamford, Connecticut-based Medicare plan agency. Fisher is a member of the Medicare advisory group at the National Association of Health Underwriters.
Fisher is already trying to get policymakers thinking about potential Medicare card shift concerns.
"Today," Fisher said in an email interview, "when a person needs to enroll in Medicare on the last day of the month and be effective the next day and also needs to enroll in a supplement, Medicare Advantage plan or prescription plan, his/her Medicare claim number is known: It is the Social Security number with a letter after it. The applications ask for this number and will not enroll a person without the number."
Once CMS shifts to the new, Medicare beneficiary identifier system, "a person will not know his 'Medicare number' until he receives a letter or his card in the mail," Fisher said. "As of today, the person could not enroll in a plan until after he receives his new Medicare card losing a month of health care and prescription coverage."
Fisher suggested that Medicare program managers also have to be prepared to help consumers who never get their new Medicare cards, and never see their Medicare beneficiary identifiers.
"What is the failsafe for them?" Fisher asked.
Fisher worries about the possibility of an emergency room refusing to treat a Medicare plan enrollee who comes in with the old, Social Security-number-based card.
—-Read Your Social Security Number Now Looks Like a Time Bomb. It Is on ThinkAdvisor.