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Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Today, the House considers legislation that has long been a bipartisan priority of the Committee on Ways and Means, protecting seniors from identity theft. Identity theft is a lasting and devastating crime. Victims spend years having to prove who they are while monitoring credit reports, fending off collection agencies for charges they never made, or the IRS for taxes they don't owe. Some are even picked up by law enforcement for crimes committed by the ID thief using their name. Seniors have every reason to be concerned.
According to the Department of Justice, 8.6 million households experienced identity theft in 2010. Over 1 million of these households are headed by seniors at risk of having their Social Security numbers stolen. Fraud involving government documents accounted for 27 percent of the identity theft complaints in 2011, making it the most common and fastest growing form of identity theft complaint according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Mr. Speaker, we know Americans are told not to carry their Social Security cards in case a wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Yet seniors are told they must carry their Medicare card which displays their Social Security number. Not only does this not make sense; it puts seniors at risk. The largest seniors organization in America agrees. According to AARP:
All Medicare patients must carry a benefits card that displays their Social Security number. Such easy assess to sensitive information makes the cards a hot target for identity thieves who want to file false claims.
Mr. Speaker, the Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2012 requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Commissioner of Social Security, to take action to ensure Social Security numbers no longer are used on Medicare cards. It requires the Secretary to develop a cost-effective way to do that, with as little impact as possible on Medicare beneficiaries and health care providers.
Further, funds from the Medicare Improvement Fund are made available to pay for implementation costs. According to CBO, the costs of this bill are fully offset and would not increase the deficit.
Lastly, the bill directs GAO to conduct a study to determine whether the Medicare program should use smart card technology, an idea advanced by my colleagues, Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare program.
Members should know this isn't the first time CMS has been directed to act. Starting in 2002, GAO first called for ending the use of Social Security numbers on government documents. Then in 2005, fiscal year 2006, the Labor-HHS bill urged the Secretary to accelerate planning for removing Social Security numbers and asked for a report. And then in 2007, OMB issued a directive to all Federal agencies to develop plans for reducing the use of Social Security numbers. And then in 2008, my colleague Lloyd Doggett and I brought a bill to the floor that passed by voice vote to end the use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards. Most recently, at an August 2012 Ways and Means Committee joint subcommittee hearing, GAO questioned CMS's lack of a serious plan to stop displaying the Social Security number.
While CMS fails to act, both the public and private sectors are working to protect their customers and businesses from identity theft. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are removing Social Security numbers from their ID and medical cards, and I applaud them for taking that action. Private health insurance and many others ended the use of Social Security numbers on public documents a long time ago. And even CMS knows better. It won't allow insurers in the Medicare Advantage and part D drug benefit programs to use Social Security numbers on their enrollees' cards.
The time to protect our nearly 50 million Americans carrying Medicare cards with their personal information is long overdue. It's high time that Congress passes this commonsense bill. There's no reason why American seniors have to continue to be put at risk of ID theft. We need to act right now, and I urge all of my colleagues to vote ``yes'' and pass the Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act today.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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