The 5 Towns Jewish Times

The Way It Is: Medicare, Social Security Numbers Part Ways

By Hannah Berman

My comfort zone has disappeared. This refers to the fact that my old Medicare number is gone. It was a familiar number since, for years, my number, like everyone else’s, was the same as my social security number. This made it easy to remember, and I was a happy camper, as they say.

It never occurred to me that it was not a good idea to have one’s Medicare number the same as the social security number. But things have changed because apparently it is not a secure practice to set things up that way. Suddenly, or perhaps gradually, it occurred to the folks in charge that the social security number is the key to identity theft, and that thieves have been having a field day with seniors’ Medicare cards. Where were these guys until now?

Most of us were blissfully ignorant about the risk we were subjected to for so long. To be sure, I am far more secure now because I just received a new card, took one look at my new number, and nearly keeled over when I realized that never in this lifetime will I remember it. I believe my eyes may have crossed when I first saw the long and weird number. It is now a combination of both numbers and letters, none of which has any meaning to me. And if that isn’t enough of a change, two extra digits were added. So, instead of the standard nine digits, there are now 11! My first thought was that it was something like R2-D2, or, as I sometimes think of it, “Artoo Detoo.” It was a long while before I learned the meaning of the term.

When I saw my new Medicare number, I initially became so discombobulated that I conflated it with my social security number. As a result of this confusion, the very next week, when I had cause to speak with an attorney (on a totally unrelated issue) he asked for my social security number and I told him to “hold on” while I went to look for my card. He must have thought I was crazy because, after all, who doesn’t know his or her social security number. Suddenly, just as I went to look for the card, my memory kicked in and I realized that it was my Medicare number that had changed and not my social security number. Quickly, I raced back to the phone, and, so as to assure the attorney that I wasn’t a dummy, I explained why I was momentarily unable to automatically rattle off my number. I told him that of course I knew the number that has been with me all my life. Thankfully, the lawyer rewarded me with a chuckle because he, too, had just gotten his new Medicare number and understood my confusion.

Change is not easy for most folks. We like things to remain the same. But this is especially true for seniors who are set in their ways and who may well have failing memories. And who has Medicare if not seniors? Now and then, when a change has been presented to us and we learn that it makes things easier, we quickly grow accustomed to the change and are fine with it. But this is not likely to happen with our new long and unfamiliar Medicare number. For those who regularly use their Medicare, let this serve as a warning that you should save yourselves the trouble of trying to memorize the new number. It is not going to happen! I challenge anyone over the age of 65, which is when Medicare becomes available to us, to remember the number.

It has been more than a decade since I have been able to claim 65 as my age, so one can well imagine how much more prevalent memory issues have become for my buddies and me. Never having realized that there was a security issue with the old number, we originally wished it had remained the same. It was only when we learned that thieves were perpetrating identity theft due to the fact that a Medicare card held our SSN and was putting us all at risk that we calmed down and resigned ourselves to the need for a new and decidedly different number. We are not particularly happy about it but we understand the necessity for it. Artoo-Detoo, here we come! That’s just the way it is!

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.