Moving From SSN to MBI: The Time to Prepare is Now

Medicare cardIn just about a year from now the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start mailing out new Medicare cards to beneficiaries that will eliminate the use of Social Security Numbers, replacing them with Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBI).

This change is pursuant to the 2015 passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. The new cards will be sent out in phases during a transition period that begins April 2018 and runs through Dec. 31, 2019, after which only the MBI card will be accepted. Approximately 60 million people have Medicare cards that display a social security number so as you might imagine this is no easy feat.

The new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier will be 11 digits long and contain a combination of alpha numeric characters. The goal of the initiative is to cut down on identity theft. The new cards will not include any other personal information. As we have previously written, there has been a significant rise in the number of data breaches involving personal health information.

Although still a year away, providers should be looking at their computer systems to determine what changes need to be made to accommodate the new MBI and begin testing them before the cards are sent out. If your practice uses outside vendors, you will need to contact them to ensure that they are prepared for the changes.

CMS states that beginning October 2018 through Dec. 31, 2019, when healthcare providers submit a claim a patient’s valid and active Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN), CMS will return both the HICN and the new MBI on every remittance advice.

CMS will continue to accept the HICN through the transition period, during which it will continue to process claims using either the HICN or MBI. This is designed to give providers and their vendors a chance to change their systems if there are problems with claims submitted using the MBI. It’s important to note that once the 2019 deadline passes, using the HICN could result in a denial or delayed payment until the claim is updated with the MBI.

Once CMS starts mailing out new Medicare cards, people new to Medicare will only be assigned an MBI. That means your systems must be ready to accept the MBI by April 2018.

The sooner you start to make provisions the easier the transition will be. Providers also should start educating their patients about the changes so they are prepared once the new cards are distributed.

Patients also need to be aware of instances in which scam artists are contacting Medicare beneficiaries and requesting personal information. Providers should advise patients that Medicare will not personally contact beneficiaries asking for personal information and patients are urged never to provide such information over the phone.