Lawmakers question 'lack of leadership' on Medicare fraud

Lawmakers Wednesday tore into the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) newly appointed director of the Center for Program Integrity for reports of massive Medicare fraud.

House Ways and Means Health subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told Shantanu Agrawal that the agency needs to be more proactive after the Office of Inspector General reported that Medicare fraud costs taxpayers more than $50 billion.

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“I’m mostly concerned about CMS’s lack of leadership and interest," Brady said.

Brady chided the CMS for not adopting measures to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, which could potentially prevent identity theft, and bemoaned legislative inaction on the issue.

“My colleagues and fellow Texans, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Doggett, have been working on a legislative fix for nearly a decade to take Social Security numbers off of Medicare cards,” he added. “It is frustrating that such a simple fix has yet to happen.”

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) has had trouble building momentum for his bill, the latest iteration of which was introduced in February 2013 and has only seven co-sponsors, including Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

A spokeswoman later noted that versions of the same measure passed the House in 2008 and 2012.

Agrawal, who was appointed two months ago, told the subcommittee the agency has been discussing the issue and is looking into legal hurdles that might be holding them back. In response, Johnson asked that the CMS at least consider taking off all but the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

Kathleen King, director of health at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), pointed out that such changes to Medicare cards would require additional funding for the CMS, to which Brady said savings from potential fraud would cover such cost.

Lawmakers also discussed the need for data sharing between state Medicare and Medicaid services to blacklist potential abusers of the system, and implementing other current GAO recommendations for the CMS.

Brady closed the meeting by stating the subcommittee was working on putting together a package of legislation to address fraud in general and recommended stakeholders contact lawmakers to propose ideas.

—This post was updated Thursday at 12:02 p.m.