The CMS is starting to mail seniors new Medicare identification cards with randomly generated beneficiary identifiers in place of Social Security numbers.
Frontline providers say they are ready for the change.
The revamped cards will first go to new beneficiaries. In the coming weeks current Medicare beneficiaries in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be among the first wave to get the new cards.
Approximately 60 million beneficiaries will receive the new cards by April 2019.
Dr. Michael Bradley, a family medicine provider and founder of Dover Family Physicians in Delaware, said he and his medical record system are prepared for the shift. He credits outreach efforts by the CMS for his preparedness.
"We've received several notices from CMS and have been prepared for some time," Bradley said.
Since the beginning of the Medicare program, Social Security numbers have been used as the beneficiary identifier for administering services. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act required the CMS to remove the numbers from Medicare cards because of identity theft and fraud risks.
There was some concern last year from providers that they weren't getting the guidance they needed on the change.
Without clear instructions on how to prepare for the change, physicians risk losing their ability to bill Medicare. Claims with the old numbers won't be accepted starting in 2020. Practices also need to update their electronic health record systems to accept the new ID numbers.
A CMS spokesman said they took those concerns to heart and launched a multi-faceted campaign including having Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) mail letters to all Medicare fee-for-service providers with updates on the Medicare card, webinars, and conference calls. The agency also created multi-media material for clinicians to use to educate their patients.
"Our department of internal medicine is loading a CMS-produced video to its waiting room television screens and personnel in all primary care departments have been apprised of the changes to share with patients," said Leah Payne, a spokeswoman at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and Marshall Health in West Virginia.
Despite the agency's efforts, some specialists wonder if more could have been done to inform them of the change.
"We knew it was coming, but I don't think I've heard anything about it in at least a year," said Brian Ramos, chief operating officer of Capital Anesthesia Partners in Maryland and president-elect, Maryland MGMA.