The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services continues to lag in efforts to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare identification cards, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional investigative agency.

Needed steps, such as designating a business owner and establishing a business case for the project, haven’t yet been taken despite clear privacy and financial risks to beneficiaries. CMS, however, has identified two approaches for removing the SSN.

The SSN alternatives include replacing the number with a new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier or not displaying the first five digits of the SSN on Medicare cards. CMS acknowledges that replacing the SSN could reduce the risk of identity theft if a Medicare card is lost or stolen, GAO says. But agency leadership has not issued directives to implement a program.

A CMS goal to establish a new information technology architecture to support shared services could include a crosswalk to translate the SSN into a new beneficiary identifier, GAO notes. “However, because the agency has not initiated a project for removing SSNs from identification cards, officials have not considered shared services or other I.T. initiatives in their modernization activities and related plans to specifically support changes needed as a result of SSN removal,” according to the GAO report. Consequently, CMS may miss opportunities to remove the SSN, the GAO concluded. The report is available here.

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