The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington. / Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
A recent inspector general report, first highlighted in USA TODAY, has brought another call to disconnect Social Security numbers from Medicare identification cards because of the risk of identity theft and fraud.
"Seniors are urged not to carry their Social Security card to protect their number, but at the same time they need to carry their Medicare card at all times to get health care," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. "This makes no sense."
Johnson and Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., are calling for passage of a bill that would prohibit including a Social Security number on Medicare identification cards. The Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act has been sitting in committee since 2011.
The Center for Medicare Services inspector general report issued earlier this month found that more than a quarter-million Medicare beneficiaries are potential victims of identity theft, but they can't get new Medicare cards. That could limit their ability to receive health services, the report found.
CMS officials say they are working on the issue.
"This report adds to the growing chorus of voices that have highlighted the need to protect beneficiary Social Security numbers," Herger said in a statement. "While CMS agreed with the OIG recommendation that it issue a new identification number when a beneficiary's has been compromised, actions speak louder than words."
Medicare officials say it's difficult to issue a new card because so many systems â?? from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid to hospitals and doctors' offices â?? use the cards to identify patients. And, they say, the costs to change the system are prohibitive: Overhauling the card system could cost $843 million, according to CMS.
"We are taking numerous steps to protect the safety of Medicare beneficiaries' identities, and we are currently trying to find the most cost-effective way to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards," said CMS spokesman Brian Cook. "It is important that we do this right, because with over 4 million claims for over $1 billion that CMS processes every day, we want to avoid any disruptions for doctors and patients."
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said seniors spend their whole lives building financial security and should not have to worry about losing it if someone steals their Medicare cards. They should have the same level of protection as seniors who use private insurance, he said.
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Read the original story: House members want Medicare to change ID card numbers