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What You Should Know About Your Medicare Card

As a beneficiary, your red, white, and blue Medicare card will be one of the most important pieces of identification that you own. Your Medicare card displays your Medicare claim number, tells you what type of Medicare coverage you have, and is documentation that you are enrolled in Medicare. When you receive a medical service, the doctor or hospital may ask you to display your Medicare card as proof of insurance.

Until recently, the Medicare claim number on your card that identified you as a beneficiary was the same as your Social Security number (SSN), leaving many people vulnerable to identity fraud if their Medicare cards were ever lost or stolen. However, in 2015, President Obama signed a bill into law that would remove SSNs from new Medicare cards.

Here’s an overview of everything you need to know when it comes to your Medicare card, including how to apply for one when you’re first eligible for Medicare and how to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged Medicare card.

Applying for a new Medicare card

If you’re new to Medicare or just about to turn 65, you may be wondering when you can expect your Medicare card in the mail. You’ll first get your Medicare card when you apply for Medicare coverage. For some beneficiaries, Medicare enrollment could be automatic. This happens if you receive Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits before you turn 65. In these cases, you are enrolled in Medicare Part A on the first day of the month in which you turn 65, and your card should arrive three months prior to this. If your birthday happens to fall on the first day of the month, you’ll be automatically enrolled on the first day of the prior month.

Some people may qualify for Medicare before 65 if they’ve been receiving disability benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least two years. In this case, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B in the 25th month of disability benefits, and your Medicare card will arrive in the mail three months before the 25th month. If you get Medicare because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), your Medicare coverage starts the first month that disability benefits begin, and your Medicare card should arrive in the mail three months before that.

As mentioned, if you qualify for automatic enrollment, you’re enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Part B at the same time. However, because you must pay a monthly premium for Part B, you can opt out of this coverage. Your “Welcome to Medicare” packet contains the necessary information for doing this. If you decide not to enroll in Part B, follow the instructions in the packet and mail back your Medicare card. Keeping your Medicare card means that you stay enrolled in Part B and will need to pay premiums for it. Keep in mind that if you don’t enroll in Part B when you’re first eligible, you could have to pay a late-enrollment penalty for it later if you change your mind. There are some situations, like if you have employer-based health coverage, where you may delay Part B without paying a late-enrollment penalty and sign up for it later with a Special Enrollment Period.

If you’re not automatically enrolled in Medicare

If you’re not yet receiving retirement benefits when you turn 65, you may need to manually sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Part B. You can do so during your Initial Enrollment Period, which is the seven-month period that starts three months before your 65th birthday, includes your birthday month, and ends three months later. Your Medicare card will arrive within 30 days after you manually enroll.

If you are not automatically enrolled in Medicare, there are a few different ways you can sign up:

  • Apply online at SSA.gov. If you’re not yet ready to receive retirement benefits, you can enroll in Medicare only.
  • Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 7PM. TTY users can call 1-800-325-0778.
  • Visit a Social Security office in person to enroll.
  • Call the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) to sign up if you worked for a railroad. You can reach the RRB at 1-877-772-5772, Monday through Friday, 9AM to 3:30PM. If you’re a TTY user, call 1-312-751-4701.

For more information on how to enroll in Medicare, see this article on Medicare enrollment periods.

When you manually apply for Medicare coverage or make other updates (for example, if you were only automatically enrolled in Part A, but would like to add Part B), you will receive a replacement Medicare card that includes your changes. Your new Medicare card will arrive within 30 days. It will be mailed to the last address that the Social Security Administration has on file, so be sure to keep your address with Social Security up to date.

Once you get your Medicare card in the mail, you should treat it as you would with any other important document, keeping it in a safe place when not in use and never letting anyone else use it. Keep in mind that if both you and your spouse receive Medicare benefits, your spouse will receive his or her own Medicare card. Remember, you and your spouse will have different Medicare claim numbers, so be careful not to mix the cards up.

How to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged Medicare card

Report stolen Medicare cards immediately. If you lost your red, white, and blue Medicare card, or if it was damaged, you can order a replacement at www.socialsecurity.gov, in person at a local Social Security office, or by calling the SSA at the phone number above. If you worked for a railroad, contact the Railroad Retirement Board at the above phone number to request a replacement card.

Be ready to provide information that can help identify you, such as:

  • Your name as it appears on your Social Security card
  • Your Social Security number or Medicare claim number
  • Your birth date
  • Your phone number
  • Other security information like place of birth or mother’s maiden name
  • The amount of your last Medicare payment, or the month and year you last received payment if you received benefits within the last year

Your new Medicare card should arrive in the mail about 30 days after you submit your request. If you have a doctor appointment or need to fill a prescription and need your Medicare card sooner, call Social Security or the RRB if you can’t wait the standard 30-day period for your card to arrive. You can request a letter showing proof of Medicare coverage, which will arrive in approximately 10 days. If you need it even sooner than that, visit your local Social Security or RRB office in person to pick up a proof-of-coverage letter.

How to use your Medicare card

Your Medicare card is required whenever you go for health-care services, so always make sure you have it on you. Show your card upon arrival to ensure your claims are processed accurately. If you received a Medicare card replacement, make sure your doctor sees your updated card at your next office visit.

As mentioned, you should never give your Medicare card to anyone else to use. Treat it just like a credit card. Keep it safe and do not give out your number to anyone who isn’t providing your health care.

When you need to call Medicare, have your card handy so you can provide your claim number when asked.
Keep in mind that your Medicare card is different from the plan membership card you may have if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Supplement (Medigap), Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Prescription Drug plan. When you enroll in a Medicare plan, the plan will often provide you with a separate membership card that you can use as proof of insurance. Similarly, you may be required to show this card when receiving medical care from your doctor or health-care provider. If you lose or misplace the card for your Medicare plan, contact the plan directly (not Social Security or the RRB) for a replacement card.

Do you have any questions about your Medicare card? Or, if you like, I can go over other Medicare plan options you may have. Feel free to call the phone number on this page to reach a licensed insurance agent and get personalized assistance with your Medicare questions.

Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called "Part C" or "MA Plans," are offered by private companies approved by Medicare and provide Medicare Part A and Part B coverage. Medicare prescription drug coverage is insurance run by an insurance company or other private company approved by Medicare. A Medicare Supplement plan is a health insurance plan provided by a private company that fills in the "gaps" in original Medicare coverage.

Medicare has neither reviewed nor endorsed this information.

To learn about Medicare plans you may be eligible for, you can:

  • Contact the Medicare plan directly.
    • Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY users 1-877-486-2048; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Contact a licensed insurance agency such as PlanPrescriber's parent company, eHealth.
    • Call eHealth's licensed insurance agents at 888-323-1149, TTY users 711. We are available Mon - Fri, 8am - 8pm ET. You may receive a messaging service on weekends and holidays from February 15 through September 30. Please leave a message and your call will be returned the next business day.
    • Or enter your zip code where requested on this page to see quote.