This week, in the days leading up to the five-week August recess, Members of the House focused on a series of tax extension bills and Members of the Senate debated cybersecurity legislation. Meanwhile, one House Subcommittee met to discuss the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for three key pieces of legislation.
Health Subcommittee Discusses Identity Theft Prevention
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee met with officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to discuss the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards. According to Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger (CA-2), more than one million seniors have been victims of identity theft in the past year, largely because the Medicare cards they are encouraged to carry everyday contain sensitive information.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed at Wednesday’s hearing that displaying the full Social Security number on Medicare cards puts seniors at risk for identity theft. However, the process of removing the numbers is costly and complex. Tony Trenkle, Director for the CMS Office of Information Services stated, “It’s going to be a massive undertaking if we go down this road.” He explained that the process would require a technology system update and massive education efforts for beneficiaries, providers, and business associates.
Despite these obstacles, Subcommittee Members were relentless in their requests for CMS to reform the system. A frustrated Chairman Herger stated, “To date, CMS has offered little beyond excuses and questionable reports. If CMS does not responsibly act, then Congress will require them to.” Trenkle closed the hearing with an agreement to provide the Subcommittee with an updated list of options and cost estimates by the beginning of next year. TSCL will continue to monitor any movement on this important issue.
Three Key Bills Gain Support
This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Timothy Bishop (NY-1) – signed on to Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (OR-4) Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 798). The cosponsor total for the bill is now up to thirty.
If signed into law, the CPI-E Act would amend the Social Security Act with regard to annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security and Medicare benefits. Currently, the COLA is based upon the spending patterns of young, urban workers, but Rep. DeFazio’s bill would require that COLAs be based upon the way seniors spend their money. The COLA that seniors currently receive does not accurately reflect how they must spend their money, and TSCL estimates that a senior who retired with average benefits in 1984 would have received $13,723.16 more through 2011 had the CPI-E been used. We are very supportive of Rep. DeFazio’s bill, and we were pleased to see one new cosponsor sign on this week.
Also this week, one new cosponsor in the Senate signed on to Sen. John Kerry’s (MA) Social Security Fairness Act (S. 2010), bringing the total up to eighteen. The new cosponsor is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI).
Sen. Kerry’s bill, if signed into law, would amend the Social Security Act to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). These two provisions unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year. TSCL believes that Congress should repeal the GPO and the WEP so that dedicated public servants receive the retirement security they deserve.
Finally, one new cosponsor signed on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 5707) this week. Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51) announced his support, bringing the total up to twenty-eight.
Rep. Schwartz’s bill, if signed into law, would repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for physician reimbursements, and it would set up a five-year trial period during which CMS would test and evaluate new payment models. TSCL believes that the SGR breeds uncertainty in the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries. Many doctors have stopped accepting Medicare patients because of the SGR, and even more are threatening to do so if a permanent solution is not established soon. We believe Congress should repeal and replace the SGR by the end of this year in order to preserve seniors’ access to quality medical care.