Although lawmakers for years have been seeking to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, CMS officials on Wednesday said the agency needs another six months to estimate how much it would cost, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.
The Government Accountability Office estimates that as many as 48 million beneficiaries are at risk of identity theft because their Social Security numbers are on their Medicare cards.
CMS Calls for More Time
Medicare Chief Information Officer Tony Trenkle said he could not provide a timetable for the new cards without having an accurate cost estimate. A GAO report released Wednesday found that a previous cost estimate of $800 million to $845 million for the card redesign was flawed.
Some committee members questioned whether CMS considered the issue a priority.
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, noted that the Department of Defense and health organizations already have taken steps to redesign their insurance cards and that CMS was asked to do the same for Medicare years ago. "I don't understand what's taking so long," Johnson said.
Trenkle said that the process would be complicated and involve updating information technology systems, educating Medicare beneficiaries about the changes and reassessing budget priorities issued by Congress (Parnass, AP/U-T San Diego, 8/1).
Legislative Efforts To Address Issue
Johnson said that if CMS continues to delay removing the Social Security numbers, "then Congress must act," The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
In April, Johnson introduced a bill (HR 1509) that would require Medicare to remove Social Security numbers from benefit cards.
Herger Says Health Reform Law To Blame for Delay
Meanwhile, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) blamed the federal health reform law for the agency's financial concerns.
"I can't help but wonder if this new cost estimate reflects just how thin Medicare has been stretched because of ObamaCare," he said. Herger added that CMS has diverted significant financial and staffing resources from Medicare to implement non-Medicare related provisions (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1).