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Medicare Basics

There are many different options when you sign up for Medicare, but there are some things that apply to everyone who has it. On this page, we’ll review the basics of Medicare now that you’ve signed up.

We’ll start with the newest addition to your wallet.

Your Medicare card

Once you join Medicare, Social Security will send you a red, white and blue Medicare card in the mail. It will look like the card below. Some important things to look for are included.

Your Medicare number is usually the same as or very similar to your Social Security number. Be sure to keep your card and number safe. Do not share them with anyone except your doctors.

If you sign up for Part C (Medicare Advantage), Part D (prescription drug) or a Medigap plan or have Medicaid, you will be mailed a separate membership card. Keep these cards safe and bring them with your Medicare card to the doctor or the pharmacy. You will need to let your providers know which plans you have.

What if I lose my Medicare card?

If you lose your Medicare card, you can ask for a new one from Social Security either online or by telephone:

  • Visit the Medicare Card Replacement section of Social Security’s website, or
  • Call Social Security’s hotline at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users, call 1-800-325-0778).

Social Security will mail you a new card in about 30 days. If you need proof sooner, just let Social Security know. They can give you proof that you can use until you get a replacement card.

Knowing your Medicare rights

No matter which type of Medicare coverage you have, you have certain rights and responsibilities.

You have a right to:

  • Be treated fairly and not experience discrimination
  • Have access to doctors and hospitals
  • Get emergency and urgently needed care when you need it
  • Know what Medicare will and will not cover
  • Appeal certain decisions about your coverage or payment
  • File complaints about your care
  • Have your personal information kept private

You are responsible for:

  • Knowing when you must sign up or change plans
  • Reading all letters from Medicare
  • Asking questions, if you don’t understand
  • Protecting your Medicare card and number
  • Asking your doctors and other healthcare providers if they take Medicare before you accept services
  • Calling Medicare if you feel a doctor, insurance agent or plan has misled you

You also have the right to choose someone to help you make decisions about your Medicare coverage, called an authorized representative.

Who is an authorized representative?

This person is only authorized to help you with Medicare — with joining a plan, quitting a plan, finding out information about your insurance and handling claims and payments. An authorized representative cannot make decisions about your medical care.

These people are already authorized representatives:

  • Your guardian
  • Your durable power of attorney for healthcare (where allowed by state law)
  • Your durable power of attorney

You can also sign a form to make someone else your authorized representative.
Download the form.

Does a person need to be my authorized representative to help me join a plan?

It depends on what you need and if you are with your helper.

  • If they are there with you: They do not need to be an authorized representative. You can start the call to Medicare or your plan. Then tell the person who answers the phone that you want someone there with you to ask the questions and get information for you. Hand the phone over to get your helper to ask the questions.
  • If they are not there with you: They may need to be an authorized representative. You may be able to simply sign a letter that says the plan can give information to your helper and send it to the company. Start by asking the company if they would take that kind of letter. If not, you would need to sign an official form to make your helper your authorized representative.

Whether or not you use an authorized representative to make Medicare decisions, it’s important to protect your personal information.

How do I protect my personal information?

You want to protect your Medicare number as you would your credit card, debit card or bank account information because Medicare fraud is sadly a common occurrence. Make sure you are there when someone is using your personal information, entering it on a website or mailing it. If you are sending in a paper application, make sure you are the only one with a copy of it. Make sure the original is sealed and ready to be mailed before you leave.

If you think someone is misusing your personal information, call:

  • 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), OR
  • The Fraud Hotline of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477, OR
  • The Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY users should call 1-866-653-4261).

Beginning April 2018 through April 2019 Medicare will send Medicare cards that include new Medicare numbers unique to you, instead of your Social Security Number to help protect your identity. This card will automatically be sent free of charge and will not impact your Medicare coverage or benefits.

What if I think someone put me in the wrong plan?

If you feel like you have been misled or did not understand what was happening while you were joining, you can object to having been enrolled in a specific plan. You can contact Medicare (or have someone help you) to explain the situation. The Medicare staff would decide what to do next.

What if I get a call from the Social Security Administration?

You may have left some blanks in your application for enrollment or for extra help with costs, so they may call you to ask for the missing information. They will only ask you for the information that’s missing from the application. Do not give out any other information. If you are not sure the person who is calling you is actually with the Social Security Administration, call the Social Security Administration back at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users call 1-800-325-0778), and they should be able to confirm the call was legitimate.

Next steps:

Learn How to Use Your Medicare or review common Medicare questions.