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Congressional Committee Calls on Feds to Curb Medicare PHI Breaches, Identity Theft

October 24, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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Citing a report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), members of the House and Ways Committee charged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for failing to protect Medicare beneficiaries who have their Social Security Number (SSN) on their Medicare ID cards from identity theft.

According to Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX), “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.  This makes no sense.  This report is a wakeup call for CMS to heed the advice of its own Inspector General and take immediate action to develop a new system for protecting seniors from medical identity theft.”

The committee members cited the OIG report, which looked at 13,775 Medicare beneficiaries who have had their personal information breached and an agency database of 284,000 beneficiary compromised Health Insurance Claim Numbers. According to the OIG report, CMS “offers few remedies” to these beneficiaries. 

Health Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger (R-CA) said, “This report adds to the growing chorus of voices that have highlighted the need to protect beneficiary SSNs.  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.  Though years of CMS indifference and delay make me skeptical, my hope is that this report finally persuades the agency to stop use of the SSN as the Medicare identification number.”

Two lawmakers, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), introduced the Medicare Identity Theft Prevention Act in 2010. The law would remove the SSN from the Medicare card.



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