Providers warned the CMS on Thursday that its plan to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare ID cards could cause patients to be denied care.
The American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and several other provider groups on Thursday called on the CMS to undergo a formal rulemaking process before changing Medicare ID cards so providers can weigh in on the transition plan.
Since the beginning of the Medicare program, Social Security numbers have been used as the beneficiary identifier for administering services. But the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act required the CMS to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards because of identity theft and fraud risks.
The CMS will issue Medicare cards with a new ID number to approximately 60 million beneficiaries by April 2019.
"This initiative has the potential to significantly disrupt patient care and physician payment," the letter sent to CMS Administrator Seema Verma said. "We therefore urge CMS to work with stakeholders to avoid significant problems."
The provider groups suggested that doctors can help educate patients before new cards are distributed. Under the CMS' current plan, the agency won't address the ID change with patients until January 2018, which may not be enough time to alert patients before their new cards begin to arrive in April.
The provider groups also are asking the CMS to develop a way to look up a patient's new ID number if a patient forgets to bring the new Medicare card to an appointment or loses it.
"This lack of a provider look-up system may strain a practice's ability to conduct administrative transactions and delay patient care in the event that a patient does not present his or her card at the time of service," the letter said.
HHS' Advisory Panel on Outreach and Education heard similar concerns during a meeting in March. The panel told the CMS it needed to ensure that providers know they must update their electronic health record systems to accept new Medicare ID numbers.
Panel members also suggested the CMS develop a web portal that would allow providers to look up patients' new ID numbers if they lose their card or fail to bring them to appointments. Without that safeguard, patients could lose out on care after 2020 when providers are no longer able to bill under the old Social Security-based ID numbers.
A CMS staffer at the event said the agency has no plans to address that issue, but she would take the suggestion back to the implementation team.