Usher in Medicare smart cards

The Medicare reform bill passed this month (“Obama to laud ‘doc fix’ bill in Rose Garden reception,” April 21) included a long overdue fix to Medicare holders’ cards, removing the Social Security number from the front. But there are additional steps we can be taking to modernize Medicare cards and protect the viability of a program that covers approximately 54 million Americans and costs more than $600 billion per year.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examines how the federal government can modernize Medicare by transitioning from paper cards to electronic cards. The report found that smart cards, which contain a microprocessor chip, would allow for “storing and exchanging medical information and conveying beneficiary information,” and would offer “substantially more rigorous authentication of the identities of Medicare beneficiaries and providers than magnetic stripe or bar code cards,” to avoid counterfeiting.

While the current paper Medicare cards that include a SSN expose senior citizens to potential identity theft, a smart card would encode sensitive beneficiary information on a chip that could only be accessed with additional authentication, such as a PIN. The use of smart cards would also support technologies that could reduce expensive Medicare fraud, as well as advance electronic health reporting, and improve the reimbursement process. 

Electronically readable cards have been used to access health services in several European countries for decades, and the GAO notes that France and Germany have used smart cards in their healthcare systems since the 1990s. Transitioning to smart card technology would certainly dovetail with ongoing efforts to reform Medicare.

From Neville Pattinson, founding board member of the Secure ID Coalition and SVP of Government Programs for Gemalto North America, Austin, Texas 

Let people see behind the curtain

As bipartisan authors of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, we believe FASTR would spur U.S. competitiveness, ensuring the best return on taxpayers’ $60 billion annual federal research investments. It’s not surprising that Tom Allen believes FASTR undermines “this country’s global leadership in scientific publishing” (“Scientific publishing policy should be based on facts, not politics,” The Hill’s Congress Blog, April 21), because he is the American Association of Publishers CEO.          

Allen, whose position wasn’t disclosed in the op-ed, is concerned about the financial impact of limiting publishers’ exclusive distribution rights for articles, but subscribers view expanded access to previously unobtainable information as a supplement to journals, not a replacement. In fact, since the National Institutes of Health’s public access policy was implemented in 2008, the number of journals published by the seven largest academic publishers has increased.

Allen also argues that a 2013 White House directive duplicates the goals of FASTR. FASTR improves on the executive action by unlocking access to cutting-edge, publicly funded research from garage-based startups to medical researchers in the lab. Unfortunately, the directive has generated a patchwork policy that protects paywalls for monopolistic academic publishers, while overlooking disturbing costs associated with blocking free public access to knowledge. For example, Liberian officials noted that Ebola research hidden behind 32-year old paywalls could have helped them better respond to the outbreak. 

Ultimately, FASTR democratizes access to new knowledge, helping entrepreneurs and industries translate basic research into practical applications and innovative products or solutions.

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