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Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (House of Representatives - June 24, 2005)

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

Amendment No. 8 offered by Mr. Filner:

At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

SEC. __XX. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to place social security account numbers on identification cards issued to beneficiaries under the medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act.

The CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the order of the House of June 23, 2005, the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner) and the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Regula) each will control 5 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner).

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, everyone in this House and everyone in this country knows that identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes of our decade and creates a nightmare for those who become victims. Identity thieves make off with millions of dollars each day, and each day more than a thousand people are being defrauded. We just saw millions of credit card numbers stolen from the Visa and the MasterCard distribution centers. The Federal Trade Commission has said that identity theft is the top consumer complaint. We all know how credit can be destroyed, earned income can be taken, and a rejection for everything from a college loan to a mortgage can be done. And law enforcement will generally not pursue these identity theft cases.

Part of that peril is, in fact, contributed to by the Federal Government. By including Social Security numbers on Medicare cards, the Department of Health and Human Services places millions of Medicare beneficiaries at risk of becoming victims of identity theft.

I have a simple amendment, Mr. Chairman. It prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from including Social Security numbers on Medicare cards. Many commercial health insurance companies and States have already taken such steps. Some States prohibit companies from displaying Social Security numbers internally and assign consumers unique numbers that would appear on Medicare cards. It is time for the Federal Government to catch up and help protect an individual's personal privacy. Even the GAO has published a number of reports and has concluded that there is no reason why the Social Security number cannot be removed from the Medicare card.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

I find it strange that the distinguished chairman and the distinguished chairwoman, both of whom are well known for their support of Medicare, Social Security, and seniors in this Nation would object to what is really just a bureaucratic change, a change that can be done through computers in a very quick fashion.

The Department of Health and Human Services has said that the health insurance claim number that they use is merely a variation of the recipient's Social Security number, not the actual number, and has noted that the number may be based on the Social Security number of a spouse or parent. However, more often than not, the number the agency uses is the person's Social Security, preceded or followed by a single letter of the alphabet. The agency has said it has no immediate plans to stop this practice. What more can the Department of Health and Human Services do to the theft of our identity? Give thieves and unscrupulous people mothers' maiden names?

Not so long ago, I would tell the chairman, we experienced the same problem with the mailing labels sent to us from the IRS. I was told there was no way the IRS would change its practice and any disruption would disrupt the whole tax collection system of the Nation. I found that incomprehensible, simply a defense of bureaucratic inertia, and said that they can change a computer system very quickly so booklets that would be mailed out to millions of Americans would not have the Social Security number. I introduced a similar bill to stop the IRS from putting Social Security numbers on its mailings, and the IRS found a way in short time to stop the practice that could lead to identity theft.

There is simply no excuse, Mr. Chairman, for leaving Medicare beneficiaries vulnerable to identity theft with a thinly disguised Social Security number on Medicare-related mailings. This is merely bureaucratic inertia. It only requires a computer software change. No benefits to Medicare or Social Security will be held up. It is about time this Congress said to a bureaucracy, cut the fooling around, break through the red tape, and protect our seniors and all our families in America from identity theft.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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