Medicare agency seeks funding boost for identity theft effort

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says it needs more funding from Congress before it can take Social Security numbers off the Medicare cards issued to senior citizens.

Republican lawmakers asked Shantanu Agrawal, the new deputy administrator at CMS’s Center for Program Integrity, why the agency has not carried out recommendations that it change the Medicare cards to prevent identity theft.

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At one point Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pulled out a giant mock Medicare card and asked why Social Security numbers were still on the cards.

“When are you going to delink these?” she asked pointing to the Social Security number.

Agrawal said the agency needs to change 70 different systems in state government and the private sector that manage Medicare information before the numbers can be taken off the cards.

“As an agency we need to have resources to make that happen,” he added.

Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said CMS should make sure the new Medicare system works properly.

“Just don't hire the company that did the ObamaCare rollout,” he said.

Agrawal was part of a panel at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Wednesday to talk about Medicare frauds, waste and abuse.

Kathleen King, director of healthcare at the Government Accountability Office, said CMS has improved its Medicare anti-fraud under the healthcare reform law, gave the agency more authority to pursue fraud cases.

However, she said CMS still needs to implement several GAO recommendations including issuing regulations on payment suspensions for providers suspected of Medicare fraud.

GAO is also calling for removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.

As an alternative, CMS says it is looking into the possible use of electronic card technologies such as smart cards, which are like credit cards with built in security chips to prevent fraud and identity theft.

“From our perspective removal of the Social Security numbers are very high priority,” said King

Wednesday’s hearing was less contentious than an almost identical hearing held almost two months ago in the House Ways and Means subcommittee where GOP lawmakers charged CMS for lack of leadership to prevent Medicare fraud.