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GAO Report: Remove Social Security Numbers From Medicare Cards

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Washington, Oct 10, 2013 | comments

Washington, DC - Today, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Subcommittee on Health Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) released a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirming that action must be taken by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to remove the Social Security number (SSN) on seniors’ Medicare cards to guard against identity theft and fraud.  The report, which underscores calls by Congress for such action, puts the failure to act squarely on CMS noting that it could have easily incorporated this change.

In releasing the report, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Johnson said, “I have said repeatedly that it makes no sense that Medicare beneficiaries have to constantly carry a card with their Social Security numbers on it.  It makes even less sense that CMS doesn’t seem to care about protecting seniors.  Last year, we asked GAO to determine if CMS could easily make the change to replace the Social Security number.  This report tells us the answer is yes.  If CMS doesn’t do what’s right for America’s seniors, we will.”

Health Subcommittee Chairman Brady said, “CMS must take this simple step and protect our nation’s seniors from identity theft and fraud.  The agency’s lack of action is unacceptable.  This report tells us the agency has squandered multiple opportunities to address the problem.  CMS needs to stop dragging its feet and begin taking the commonsense step of removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.”

Background:

  • Nearly a decade ago, the Bush Administration issued an order to remove all SSNs from public documents and create identity safe documents.  While other federal agencies complied and removed SSNs, CMS has been replacing lost, stolen, or expired beneficiary cards. 
  • According to the GAO report, CMS has forgone the opportunity to make changes or even begin to implement a solution to protect seniors from potential identity theft by leaving the SSN on a Medicare card they advise seniors to carry continuously.  The GAO reports that CMS still has yet to initiate the Information Technology (IT) project that is necessary for the numbers to eventually be removed from the cards. 
  • The report states that CMS IT systems would be able to handle the switch to a relatively simple translation strategy and encouraged CMS to take the administrative efforts necessary to achieve the changes. 
  • At a joint subcommittee hearing in August 2012, a CMS witness stated that the agency was eager and willing to work with Congress to develop an approach to remove SSNs from the Medicare card.  Yet, one year later, there has been little to no movement on any approach that would remove the SSN and protect seniors from identity theft.
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