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Your Medicare number may not match your SS number

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POSTED November 15, 2013 10:21 p.m.

 

One bit of fallout from the recent trend for retiring baby boomers who are maximizing their Social Security benefits by claiming, at least for a while, spousal benefits from their husband's or wife's Social Security account is some confusion over Medicare numbers. Today's first two questions deal with that issue.

Q: Following your advice, when I turned 66 I filed for Social Security on my husband's record. I plan to receive a wife's benefit on his account until age 70, at which point I will switch to my own Social Security retirement benefits. I just got a new Medicare card in the mail and it confuses me. It has my husband's Social Security number on it followed by the letter "B." Shouldn't my Medicare card number match my Social Security number?

A: No, the number on your Medicare card will not always match your own Social Security number. What it will match is your Social Security claim number, which may be different from your regular Social Security number.

You are currently claiming wife's benefits on your husband's record. (That little symbol "B" is Social Security's code for wife's benefits.) So as long as you are claiming wife's benefits, your husband's number with a B behind it is your Medicare number.

Once you reach age 70 and switch to your own Social Security, you will then be claiming your own retirement benefits, so you will get a new Medicare card that will have your own Social Security number with an A after it. (That A is Social Security's code for retirement benefits.)

Q: I've just turned 70 and switched from getting husband's benefits on my wife's Social Security record to getting my own retirement benefits. I recently received my third Medicare card in the last five years, each with a different number. I am so confused! Which card should I be using?

A: You're email didn't tell your whole story, but I am pretty sure I can guess what happened. First, you signed up for Medicare only at age 65. Second, when you turned 66, you filed for husband's benefits on your wife's Social Security record. And third, when you reached age 70, you switched from your wife's account to your own retirement benefits.

So at age 65, they had to give you a Medicare number. But they couldn't use your Social Security number with an A behind it, because as I explained in the first answer, that A means you are getting retirement benefits. And at age 65, you were not getting any Social Security benefits. So the Social Security Administration had to come up with another letter code for folks in your situation, and they chose T. So between age 65 and 66, your first Medicare card had your Social Security number with a T behind it.

Then when you turned 66 and filed for husband's benefits on your wife's record, you got your second Medicare card, this one with your wife's Social Security number with the code B1 behind it. B1 is the code SSA uses to designate someone getting husband's benefits on his wife's Social Security account.

Finally, when you reached the age of 70, you filed for your own Social Security retirement benefits. So now your third (and final) Medicare card has your Social Security number with the A code behind it.

This issue exists because the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency that runs the Medicare program, chose a long time ago to simply use the Social Security claim number as the Medicare number. This really was never much of a problem until recently when retiring baby boomers started employing various Social Security "maximizing" strategies that allow them to switch from benefits on one account to benefits on another account. And that means that those retirees will go through a series of Social Security claim numbers up until the age of 70.

The only way around this bit of confusion would be for HCFA to assign a completely separate number as a Medicare number. But my hunch is most folks would not like that. Who needs yet another government identification number to remember? I say we leave well enough alone. If that small fraction of retirees who employ these strategies are smart enough to jump through the hoops required to maximize their benefits, they are smart enough to keep track of two or three different Medicare numbers between ages 65 and 70.

Q: I have been getting widow's benefits since the age of 60. I have never worked, but of course I have always had my own Social Security number. I just turned 65 and got my Medicare card, which has my husband's number on it. Is this a mistake?

A: No, it's not a mistake. As explained above, you are claiming widow's benefits on your husband's record, so your Social Security (and Medicare) claim number is your husband's — with a D after it. D is the SSA symbol for widow's benefits.

If anyone is curious to learn the various letter symbols SSA uses to designate different kinds of Social Security benefits, just Google "SSA beneficiary identification code."

 

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