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Medicare identification cards will be redesigned to remove Social Security numbers from the display in an effort to protect seniors from identity theft.

The change—thanks to the passage of the Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act—was a long time coming. It follows a recent study that revealed beneficiaries were at risk for identity theft but couldn’t get new cards due to high costs. Beneficiaries are required to carry their Medicare cards on them at all times, but the cards use their SSNs for identification purposes.

“Seniors have spent a lifetime building their financial security,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat. “Their savings and credit should not be put at risk for identity theft if someone steals their card.”

Medical identity theft is on the rise. Roughly 1.85 million Americans were affected by medical identity theft in 2012—up from 1.49 million in 2011, according to the Third Annual Survey on Medical Identity Theft published by the Ponemon Institute.

The problem leads to serious consequences for victims. When bad guys use your identity for medical care, their medical information (blood type, etc.) may be added to your record, adversely affecting your own treatment. When thieves repeatedly use your health insurance information, you may quickly reach caps that limit the services and medical devices that you’re eligible to receive. When you try to make a legitimate health insurance claim, your health plan may deny coverage once the caps are met.

Read more for tips on how to protect yourself.

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