House Committees Hold Joint Hearing on Use of Social Security Numbers in Government Programs

On Tuesday, May 23rd, the House Ways and Means Social Security and House Oversight IT Subcommittees held a joint hearing on efforts underway by the federal government to limit the use of social security numbers in an effort to protect against identity theft and fraud. Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The hearing focused on concerns surrounding the use of social security numbers, particularly related to cybersecurity, and initiatives at each government entity to move to alternative methods of identification. 

Karen Jackson from CMS highlighted the provision in the MACRA law requiring the removal of social security numbers from Medicare cards as the driver of the agency’s plan to have new cards issued to all beneficiaries with new alphanumeric Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBI) by April 2019.  

Other witnesses, including John Oswalt from the VA and David DeVries from OPM, sited the lack of resources and extensive number of IT systems that need to be reprogrammed as affecting their agency or department’s timeline for fully removing social security numbers from forms and other communications.

Members of the Subcommittees stressed the need to expedite efforts and challenged the witnesses to break down silos across the federal government and work with industry to identify technology solutions for “tokenizing” the various new program identifiers. HIMSS is actively engaged in discussions with Congress on mitigating policy and technology barriers in healthcare to accurately and securely identifying patients and matching them to their information across the public and private sectors.