New Medicare Cards Are Coming: Be Prepared

The Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) will replace the existing Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN). Here’s what you need to know.


Introducing the MBI

How many characters will the MBI have?

The MBI has 11 characters, like the Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN), which can have up to 11.

Will the MBI’s characters have any meaning?

Each MBI is randomly generated. This makes MBIs different than HICNs, which are based on the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of people with Medicare. The MBI’s characters are “non-intelligent” so they don’t have any hidden or special meaning.

What kinds of characters will be used in the MBI?

MBIs are numbers and upper-case letters. We’ll use numbers 0-9 and all letters from A to Z, except for S, L, O, I, B, and Z. This will help the characters be easier to read.

How will the MBI look on the new card?

The MBI will contain letters and numbers. Here’s an example: 1EG4-TE5-MK73

• The MBI’s 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 9th characters will always be a letter.
• Characters 1, 4, 7, 10, and 11 will always be a number.
• The 3rd and 6th characters will be a letter or a number.
• The dashes aren’t used as part of the MBI. They won’t be entered into computer systems or used in file formats.


Medicare is taking steps to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards in what the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) desribes as an attempt to prevent fraud and fight identity theft. Additionally, CMS says it seeks to protect essential program funding and the private healthcare and financial information of Medicare beneficiaries.

What’s Changing

New Medicare cards issued by CMS will feature a new unique, randomly-assigned Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) to replace the existing Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) on the cards and in various CMS systems. Mailing of new cards will begin in April 2018. All Medicare cards will be replaced by April 2019.

CMS said in a statement to physicians, “We want to make this process as easy as possible for you, your patients, and your staff. Based on feedback from healthcare providers, practice managers, and other stakeholders, CMS is developing capabilities where doctors and other healthcare providers will be able to look up the new MBI through a secure tool at the point of service.”

CMS is implementing a 21-month transition period where all healthcare providers will be able to use either the MBI or the HICN for billing purposes.

Even though systems must be able to accept the new MBI format by April 2018, physicians can continue to bill and file healthcare claims using a patient’s HICN during the transition period. Billing vendors should evaluate systems to make any updates to comply with these changes, as well.

Coming This Spring

CMS has proposed five steps to help offices or healthcare facilities get ready for new Medicare cards and MBIs.

1. Go to the CMS provider website and sign-up for the weekly MLN Connects® newsletter.
2. Attend quarterly calls to get more information. Scheduled calls are promoted in the MLN Connects newsletter.
3. Verify all of your Medicare patients’ addresses. If the addresses you have on file are different than the Medicare address you get on electronic eligibility transactions, ask your patients to contact Social Security and update their Medicare records.
4. Information about new Medicare cards will be available later this fall. Practices can display information about the new Medicare cards and hang posters about the change in offices to help spread the word.
5. Test system changes and work with your billing office staff to be sure your office is ready to use the new MBI format.

To learn more, visit:

—Practical Dermatology® Staff


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About Practical Dermatology

Practical Dermatology is the monthly publication that provides coverage of medical care, cosmetic advancements, and practice management for clinicians in the field. With straight-forward, how-to advice from experts in various fields, we strive to enhance quality of care and improve the daily operation of dermatology practices.