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Public Statements

Chairmen Johnson and Herger Announce a Hearing on Removing Social Security Numbers from Medicare Cards

Press Release

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House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger (R-CA) today announced that the Subcommittees will hold a joint hearing on removing Social Security numbers from beneficiaries' Medicare cards. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, in 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 9:30 A.M.

In view of the limited time available to hear from witnesses, oral testimony at this hearing will be from invited witnesses only. However, any individual or organization not scheduled for an oral appearance may submit a written statement for consideration by the Committee and for inclusion in the printed record of the hearing. A list of invited witnesses will follow.

BACKGROUND:

In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, seven percent of households in the U.S., or about 8.6 million households, had a least one member age 12 or older who experienced identity theft. Of these households, over 1 million were headed by seniors, age 65 and older. The Social Security number (SSN) is especially valuable to identity thieves as it serves as the key to authenticating an individual's identity in order to open accounts or obtain other benefits in the victim's name.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) first recommended removing the SSN from government documents in 2002. In 2007, President George W. Bush's Identity Theft Task Force found that the SSN is "the most valuable commodity for an identity thief" and its first recommendation was to reduce the unnecessary use of SSNs. That same year, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a directive to all federal agencies to develop a plan for reducing the use of SSNs in government transactions and to explore alternatives to their use. In 2008, the Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General found that displaying SSNs on beneficiary Medicare cards unnecessarily places millions of Americans at risk for identity theft and recommended that the SSN be removed from Medicare cards. Also in 2008, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6600, the "Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2008," introduced by Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX), directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish cost-effective procedures to ensure that SSNs are not included on Medicare cards moving forward. This legislation passed the House by voice vote on September 28, 2008. Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on this legislation.

Today, nearly 50 million Medicare cards display SSNs, the main component of the health insurance claim number (HICN). The SSA and the Railroad Retirement Board assign HICNs to eligible Medicare beneficiaries. The HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administers the Medicare program and relies on the HICN for administering Medicare benefits, including requiring beneficiaries to present the HICN to document eligibility for Medicare services and requiring approximately 1.4 million providers to use the HICN for billing services.

To date, CMS has not developed a plan for removing the SSN from the Medicare card to protect beneficiaries from identity theft and protect taxpayers from fraudulent billing. In response to a July 2010 bipartisan request from the Committee on Ways and Means, CMS reported in November 2011 its estimates of three potential options for removing SSNs from Medicare cards, each projected to cost more than $800 million, nearly triple the amount the agency had preliminarily estimated in 2006. CMS also estimated that the change would take four years to test and implement and cited the risks to its systems and those of its provider and health care partners if the necessary resources were not provided. On September 13, 2011, Chairman Sam Johnson and Congressman Lloyd Doggett asked GAO to examine the lessons learned from the efforts of the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to remove SSNs from their identification cards and later asked GAO to review CMS's 2011 report, including the options and their estimated costs.

In announcing the hearing, Chairman Johnson said, "Seniors are urged not to carry their Social Security card to protect their Social Security number, but at the same time are being told they must have their Medicare card with them at all times in order to get health care. This makes no sense. Many agencies in the public and private sector have removed the Social Security number from their benefit or ID cards to protect people, yet CMS refuses to protect the 48 million Medicare beneficiaries from ID theft by doing the same. That's why Congressman Lloyd Doggett and I have introduced H.R. 1509, removing the Social Security number from the Medicare card and reducing the ID theft danger that CMS has long ignored."

In announcing the hearing, Chairman Herger said, "It is puzzling why CMS has not taken commonsense steps to protect Medicare beneficiaries from preventable identity theft by removing Social Security numbers from their Medicare cards. Other federal health programs and private health insurance plans invested in these changes years ago. This hearing enables the Subcommittees to explore whether CMS has a plan to remove Social Security numbers from beneficiary cards and determine whether its previous analysis in this area is reliable."

FOCUS OF THE HEARING:

The Subcommittees will examine options for removing SSNs from Medicare cards, including the cost and impact of doing so, along with why CMS has failed to develop and execute a plan to remove the SSN from beneficiary Medicare cards.

DETAILS FOR SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS:

Please Note: Any person(s) and/or organization(s) wishing to submit for the hearing record must follow the appropriate link on the hearing page of the Committee website and complete the informational forms. From the Committee homepage, http://waysandmeans.house.gov, select "Hearings." Select the hearing for which you would like to submit, and click on the link entitled, "Click here to provide a submission for the record." Once you have followed the online instructions, submit all requested information. ATTACH your submission as a Word document, in compliance with the formatting requirements listed below, by the close of business on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. Finally, please note that due to the change in House mail policy, the U.S. Capitol Police will refuse sealed-package deliveries to all House Office Buildings. For questions, or if you encounter technical problems, please call (202) 225-1721 or (202) 225-3625.

FORMATTING REQUIREMENTS:

The Committee relies on electronic submissions for printing the official hearing record. As always, submissions will be included in the record according to the discretion of the Committee. The Committee will not alter the content of your submission, but we reserve the right to format it according to our guidelines. Any submission provided to the Committee by a witness, any supplementary materials submitted for the printed record, and any written comments in response to a request for written comments must conform to the guidelines listed below. Any submission or supplementary item not in compliance with these guidelines will not be printed, but will be maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.

1. All submissions and supplementary materials must be provided in Word format and MUST NOT exceed a total of 10 pages, including attachments. Witnesses and submitters are advised that the Committee relies on electronic submissions for printing the official hearing record.

2. Copies of whole documents submitted as exhibit material will not be accepted for printing. Instead, exhibit material should be referenced and quoted or paraphrased. All exhibit material not meeting these specifications will be maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.

3. All submissions must include a list of all clients, persons and/or organizations on whose behalf the witness appears. A supplemental sheet must accompany each submission listing the name, company, address, telephone, and fax numbers of each witness.

The Committee seeks to make its facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. If you are in need of special accommodations, please call 202-225-1721 or 202-226-3411 TTD/TTY in advance of the event (four business days notice is requested). Questions with regard to special accommodation needs in general (including availability of Committee materials in alternative formats) may be directed to the Committee as noted above.

Note: All Committee advisories and news releases are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.waysandmeans.house.gov/.


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