When you first enroll in Medicare, one of the most important documents you will receive is your red, white and blue Medicare card. This card is unique to you, with a personal identification number that shows you are enrolled in Medicare and that Medicare will cover eligible services. Your providers may ask you to show your card as proof that you are covered.
The Medicare card tells your provider if you have Medicare Part A, Part B or both, and the date your coverage started.
You should always carry your card whenever you travel or are away from home in case you require medical care while away.
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Typically, your Medicare card will arrive in the mail within 30 days of enrollment. Those who are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) retirement benefits and are automatically enrolled in Medicare at age 65 will usually get their card a few months before their 65th birthday.
Those who you qualify for Medicare because of disability will get their Medicare card in the mail three months before their 25th month of disability benefits.
If your Medicare card is lost, stolen or becomes damaged or worn out, you need to replace it as soon as possible. There are several ways to do this:
Your replacement Medicare card will be mailed to you about 30 days after your request. The card will go to the address on file, so be sure to contact Social Security or the RRB and update your address if you’ve moved. You can do this by phone, or update your address and contact information yourself at your My Social Security account.
Those who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plans, Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans or other types of Medicare plans may receive separate insurance cards for those.
To replace those cards, contact your Medicare plan carrier directly and ask how to get a replacement card from your insurance company.
There may be a time when you need a Medicare replacement card sooner than the 30 days it typically takes to arrive in the mail. For instance, you may have a doctor’s appointment already scheduled, or you need a prescription refilled soon.
If that is the case, Social Security or the RRB can provide a letter for you to use as temporary proof of Medicare coverage. This letter will be mailed to you in about 10 days. To request such a letter, contact Social Security or the RRB.
If you need proof of Medicare coverage immediately, go to your local Social Security office or Railroad Retirement Board office in person.
If you need care and do not have a Medicare card or replacement letter, you still can receive healthcare services.
Medicare cards are made from paper, so they are likely to wear out from use over time. It is up to you to protect your card to keep it in good condition. You also need to safeguard your card to prevent identity theft of your Medicare information.
Some people consider laminating their card to protect it from wear and tear. The Social Security Administration does not recommend doing that, however, because laminating the card may interfere with its security features. Instead, use a clear plastic cardholder or sleeve to protect it from damage and keep it visible for your providers.
The Social Security Administration also suggests you consider photocopying your card. Keep the copy in a safe location, such as a lockbox or safe deposit box with other important documents.
You should also keep important numbers, including the Medicare phone number and the contact details for Medicare Advantage or Medigap providers, handy and in a safe place.
Your Medicare beneficiary identifier number is private and personal. It is critical that you take the necessary steps to prevent identity theft and insurance fraud. For example:
Do you have other questions about your Medicare coverage?
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David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.
David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.
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