Understanding and Decoding My Medicare Card

“I would like to know more about my Medicare Card.

To 50 million-plus members of the Medicare population, few things are more valuable than a red, white, and blue Medicare card. Whether you are a newcomer to Medicare or a veteran of the program, the key to getting the most out of your Medicare card is understanding all it says and all it can do for you.

How Do I Get My Medicare Card?

Most Americans become eligible for Medicare at age 65, and sign up for Medicare during their Initial Enrollment Period.

If you enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, you should receive your first Medicare card in the mail within about 30 days.Even if you are not new to Medicare, there may be times you need to apply for a new Medicare card. Hundreds of thousands of Americans contact the Social Security Administration for Medicare card replacement every year—and replacing a Medicare card that has been lost, stolen, or damaged is easily done by telephone, in person, or online.

Requesting a New Medicare Card by Telephone

Call 1-800-772-1213 toll-free to start your request for a new card over the phone. Be advised there may be long wait times.

Receiving your replacement Medicare card in the mail should take about 30 days. Making your request by telephone won’t significantly speed up the process, but at least you will know you have the ear of a Medicare representative and you’ll know the process of getting your new card is under way. If you need proof of Medicare enrollment well before your new card is likely to arrive in the mail, you can request a letter stating you are covered by Medicare. Your doctor or provider isn’t likely to have any problem with this.

Visiting your Local Social Security Office to Request a New Card

Visiting your local Social Security office is the best way of getting proof that you are covered by Medicare if you need to present such evidence immediately to a healthcare provider.

You can also apply for your replacement card at your local Social Security office. At some Social Security offices you can expect long lines or waiting periods.

Ordering Your Replacement Medicare Card Online

Requesting a new card online is the easiest way for most people to get a new Medicare card. The process is simple and the website is secure. Visit the Social Security Administration’s Replace a Medicare Card page and fill out the online application for a replacement card.

To order a replacement Medicare card, you will need to provide exact information about your last payment or benefit, your Social Security number and your name as it appears on your Social Security card, your date of birth, and your telephone number. You may also need to provide further information for identification purposes. You should also be ready to provide your Medicare card number.

Whichever way you apply for your replacement card, it should arrive in the mail in about 30 days.

What If I’ve Forgotten My Medicare Number?

If you do not know your Medicare number, your primary care doctor should have it. If necessary, you can get your number by calling toll-free 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

The only difference between your Medicare number and your Social Security number is the letter code that is added to your Social Security number in order to create your Medicare number.

What Do All Those Other Letters on My Medicare Card Mean?

Following the first nine digits of your Medicare Claim Number—which should match the nine digits of your Social Security Number (or, in some cases, your spouse’s, parent’s, or child’s Social Security Number)—you will find a letter code reflecting the nature of your eligibility for Medicare.

Imagine your Medicare Claim Number is 111-11-1111. Unless another person is Medicare-eligible only through his or her relationship with you, you are the only person with a Medicare number beginning with 111-11-1111. If you are Medicare-eligible through your own payments into Medicare over 40 or more quarters, your Medicare number is 111-11-1111-A.

In all, there are 12 letters that may follow the numerical part of a Medicare Claim Number. Another number can follow most of those 12 Medicare number suffix letters.

Besides the letter A, which indicates you are a primary claimant who has paid into the Medicare system as a wage earner, there are 33 other common codes that appear at the end of Medicare Claim Numbers to identify the nature of eligibility. There are also many less common codes, a list of which can be found in Section 50.3 of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services publication on Medicare General Information, Eligibility, and Entitlement.


Note that if the letter A, B, C, or D follows the numerical part of your Medicare number, this has nothing to do with enrollment in Medicare Part A, B, C, or D.

The front of your Medicare card indicates whether you are enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B under the heading “IS ENTITLED TO.” If you are enrolled in a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan or Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan, that information appears on a separate card and not on your Medicare card.

What if I change address?

Because much of your interaction with Medicare is likely to take place via the US Postal Service, it is important to inform Medicare promptly whenever your address changes.

You will receive quarterly statements from Medicare by mail, showing all the charges your healthcare providers or suppliers billed to Medicare during the statement period. Each quarterly Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) will also show what Medicare paid. For many Medicare recipients the MSN provides an opportunity to make sure everything is in order, that no claims were denied, that paperwork was filled out and submitted correctly, and so on.

While all the information on a Medicare Summary Notice can be viewed electronically, information and records Medicare needs to send you will typically be mailed. As a result, it is important to report a change of address to Medicare promptly.

You can easily report a change of address by:

  1. Visiting the Social Security website. Within moments you can create an account that will allow you to access and report information about your Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage. Once your account is created, you can easily provide your new address or otherwise update contact information.
  2. Calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). Note that a change of address should not be reported to 1-800-MEDICARE. While 1-800-MEDICARE is the number to call for most of your queries or concerns about Medicare, you should report a change of address to 1-800-772-1213.
  3. Visiting your local Social Security office. You may have to spend some time in line if you choose this option, but you will be able to inform a Social Security representative face-to-face about your new address.

Your red, white, blue Medicare card is a valuable asset entitling you to receive all the Medicare benefits you are eligible for. Be sure to take good care of it!

Medicare Card
Medicare Card

Can I Laminate My Medicare Card?

While Medicare officials generally do not encourage laminating your card, this is a matter of choice. There is no rule against laminating a Medicare card, and as long as lamination does not hinder electronic reading of your card, lamination is generally acceptable.

However, photocopying your card and keeping the original in a safe place will generally ensure that your Medicare card will remain in good condition for many years. You will need access to the original in case you need to show it from time to time, but for the most part you will be able to keep your card in a safe place as long as you know your Medicare number or carry a copy of your Medicare card.

The front of your Medicare card will indicate your name, Medicare claim number, gender, and the month, day, and year your Medicare coverage began.

The front of your Medicare card will also indicate the part or parts of Original Medicare that you are enrolled in. You will be able to see at a glance whether you are enrolled in Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, or both. Remember that if you enroll in Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) or Medicare Part D (prescription drug plans), you will receive a separate card confirming enrollment in your plan.

{Images of Medicare cards, starting with Harry Truman’s, through 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s}

While Medicare cards may have changed over the decades, they remain a vital asset to an ever-growing Medicare population that is already over 50 million strong. Your Medicare card entitles you to a wide range of hospital and medical services, and allows you to enroll in Medicare supplement insurance plans designed to fill the gaps in your Medicare coverage while helping to keep your hospital and medical costs as low as possible.

Take good care of your Medicare card, secure in the knowledge of all the benefits and protection it can provide!

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