Mr. GERLACH. Mr. Speaker, I want to first acknowledge the hard work and leadership of my colleague on the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Johnson of Texas, as well as our committee chairman, Mr. Camp of Michigan. Both gentlemen recognize the urgency of finding practical solutions for protecting seniors and taxpayers against easily preventable Medicare waste, fraud and improper payments, and the ever increasing threat of identity theft.
Mr. Speaker, whenever someone in Washington proposes a new idea for shrinking costs and saving precious taxpayer dollars, we usually receive a barrage of questions from folks concerned that they will have to do with less and possibly see services they depend upon curtailed in some way.
This legislation we're considering today contains provisions that would kick-start a critically important process that ultimately may allow Congress to use commonsense technology in cutting an estimated $60 billion a year in improper and fraudulent Medicare payments while making sure seniors enrolled in Medicare receive the care and treatment they have earned.
We're attempting to cut costs without restricting access to care. Specifically, this legislation authorizes a study by the Government Accountability Office examining the benefits of a proposed pilot program to modernize the Medicare card that almost every senior carries with him or her in a wallet or a pocketbook. Under the proposed pilot program as introduced in legislation by my colleague Congressman Blumenauer and myself, as part of the Medicare Common Access Card Act, smart card technology would be used to protect personal information of Medicare participants, prevent phantom billing for procedures that were never performed or products that were never purchased, and speed payments to doctors and hospitals while reducing costly billing errors.
While today's Medicare card provides seniors access to the health care services they need, that small piece of plastic can provide the narrow opening unscrupulous individuals exploit to snatch identities and cheat taxpayers and seniors out of billions of dollars every year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that waste, fraud, and abuse cost the Medicare program about $60 billion a year. Nearly 10 percent of the entire annual Medicare budget--or approximately $48 billion a year--is lost to improper payments, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office. That's a significant amount of human resources and financial resources that are better used helping our seniors pay for hospital visits, prescription drugs, and other vital medical care.
The Department of Defense has issued more than 20 million secure smart cards to authenticate and verify access for access to programs and facilities. To date, the Department of Defense reports that not a single common access card has been counterfeited.
We cannot stop improper payments in the Medicare system until we find a way to know and to verify who is authorized to provide and receive benefits. A comprehensive study is an important first step that will make sure we get the job done right for taxpayers, seniors, doctors, and other health care providers.
Taxpayers and seniors deserve the protection against identity theft and fraud that this legislation would provide, and I urge my colleagues to begin the process of putting in place a simple, low-cost solution for bringing the Medicare card into the 21st century, and I thank the gentleman for leading this effort.