We've been hearing it for quite some time, but now we have a date for when it's happening. Beginning April 2018, CMS will issue all new Medicare cards with a "unique, randomly-assigned number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI)" instead of a social security number with a suffix. All cards will be replaced by April 2019.
It will be interesting to see if any of those dates will be delayed, since every single major billing change that has occurred recently has been delayed.
This is, of course, a good thing in the electronic age of identity theft, but it's going to add challenges to billing in some offices - those for whom the provider never actually comes face-to-face with the patient before the service to ask for a copy of the Medicare card and verify the number. Hospitalists, DME dealers, anesthesia - so many specialties and provider types only get a hospital face sheet or a referral sheet from another provider, and so many times the Medicare number is incorrect and a copy of the card is not sent over. A great many of those accounts do include the social security number, so verification becomes possible just by adding the most common suffixes until you find the correct Medicare number. Once that is no longer possible, I suspect CMS will not relax its rules about not giving out eligibility information with only a name and date of birth.
Read more about the change here.