Archive for September 10th, 2012

Why Medicare Cards Still Show Social Security Numbers – NYTimes.com


Why Medicare Cards Still Show Social Security Numbers – NYTimes.com.

A Medicare identification card.The New York TimesA Medicare identification card.

Images of a woman waving her Medicare card on television at the Democratic convention last week in Charlotte, N.C., prompted the folks at Credit.com and others to ask: Why do Medicare cards still have Social Security numbers on them anyway, when access to the numbers can post a risk of identity theft?

The answer is that the federal government has been dragging its heels for years on making a change, because, according to various reports from the agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it would be both expensive and complex technologically to re-issue cards with new identification numbers.

According to testimony from a C.M.S. official before Congress in August, “transitioning to a new identifier would be a task of enormous complexity and cost and one that, undertaken without sufficient planning, would present great risks to continued access to health care for Medicare beneficiaries.”

About 48 million Americans carry Medicare cards that use their Social Security number as part of their health-claim number.

In a report issued in 2006, C.M.S. said it would cost $300 million to remove SSNs from Medicare cards. Then, in an updated report last November, it said it would cost at least $803 million, and possibly as much as $845 million, depending on the option chosen. Much of the cost, the agency said, was for upgrading computer systems not only at the federal level, but also at the state level, for coordination with Medicaid systems.

But the Government Accountability Office said in its testimony to Congress in August that the methods and assumptions that C.M.S. used to develop its costs estimates “raise questions about their reliability.”

“Lack of action on this key initiative leaves Medicare beneficiaries exposed to the possibility of identity theft,” the G.A.O. said. It recommended that C.M.S. select an approach to modify or remove the numbers from Medicare cards and develop an “accurate, well-documented cost estimate.”

According to the G.A.O., C.M.S. agreed with its recommendations and will conduct a new estimate with improved methodology. That’s likely to take some time. So don’t expect Medicare cards free of the numbers anytime soon.

Meantime, the AARP and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse suggest making a photocopy of your Medicare card, cutting it to wallet size and cutting out the last four digits of your Social Security numbers. Carry the photocopy in your wallet instead of the actual card. (You’ll still need your original card the first time you visit a provider, because they’ll likely want a photocopy of it).

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Florida voters facing a long, long ballot in November – Tampa Bay Times


Florida voters facing a long, long ballot in November – Tampa Bay Times.

TALLAHASSEE — Brace yourselves, Florida voters: The election ballot you’ll see this fall is longer than ever.

It’s so long that voters will have to fill out multiple sheets with races on both sides, then feed those multiple pages through ballot scanners, one page at a time.

It’s a pocketbook issue, too: Some people who vote by mail will have to dig deeper and pay at least 65 cents postage and up to $1.50 to return their multipage ballots in heavier envelopes.

More than ever, county election supervisors say, people should vote early or request an absentee ballot to avoid predicted bottlenecks at the polls on Election Day.

“This is the longest ballot I can remember,” said Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. “The voter who sees this ballot the first time may need smelling salts.”

The ballot will be chock full of choices, for president, U.S. Senate, Congress, the state Legislature, county offices and merit retention for judges, all the way down to city and county referendums.

But what may prompt some voters to rub their eyes in disbelief is the Legislature’s decision to place 11 proposed changes to the Constitution on the ballot, some of which appear in their entirety.

“They have really created a monster,” said Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer Jr. in Key West.

Four amendments run on for hundreds of words, and are full of legalese such as this, on Amendment No. 5, dealing with the court system: “If the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature’s prior approval.”

The Legislature has long criticized the Florida Supreme Court for rejecting some of its proposed amendments as misleading, which some Republican lawmakers view as an overreach by the judiciary.

In 2000, the court retroactively struck down a 1998 constitutional amendment on the death penalty, calling the ballot summary incomplete and misleading.

The court said legislators misled voters by replacing the term “cruel or unusual punishment” with “cruel and unusual punishment,” which it said was a “radical change” not explained to voters, 73 percent of whom approved the amendment.

As a result, the Legislature exempted itself from the 75-word limit that applies to citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives.

“It’s an effort by the Legislature, the body closest to the people, to ensure that voters have the right to vote on these amendments,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity.

Corcoran said most voters will do their homework and know the amendments before they vote. But some election supervisors aren’t so sure.

“To understand these full-text amendments, you almost have to be a Harvard lawyer,” said Sharon Harrington, the Lee County elections supervisor in Fort Myers.

With all that verbiage, election supervisors predict a higher than usual rate of “drop-off,” as voters overlook state ballot questions altogether. If they do, they also may skip city or county ballot questions listed below the state questions.

“There is such a thing as voter fatigue,” Clark said. “You have that with any long ballot.”

Another factor making the ballot longer is a federal requirement that 13 counties must print ballots in English and Spanish because of their voting populations. The state’s two largest counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, must print ballots in English, Spanish and Creole.

Miami-Dade, which also has local elections in 14 cities, may publish a 10-page ballot — five pages, front and back — and an ad campaign will remind voters they can vote early or by mail. Voters can print a sample ballot online and check wait times at early voting sites.

“We want to educate voters because of the inevitability of long wait times,” said Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley.

All those ballot pages mean voters will need more time to vote.

“I’m beyond concerned,” said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. “The unknown variable is how long the voter is in the privacy booth. They can be there as long as they want to.”

Corley is adding brightly colored “voter alert” notices on business cards, utility bills and voter information cards issued by his office, urging people to request absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election.

“Avoid lines and vote from the convenience of your home,” the notices tell Pasco voters.

So many ballot pages means more work for those box-shaped optical scan machines that “read” the results. That has elections officials bracing for another problem.

The boxes below those scanners can only hold so many pages, and they will have to be replaced a lot more frequently than usual.

“We’re going to have to stop periodically throughout the day and empty those bins and seal them,” said Harrington of Lee County. “It may hold up some people at the polls for a little while.”

Lee County voters have in the past been given a two-page ballot because of the county’s multitude of elections for single-purpose boards such as fire districts. This year’s ballot is four pages with choices on both sides.

Like most counties, Lee will send every registered voter a sample ballot. Harrington says people who want to vote on Election Day should fill out the sample ballot at home and bring it with them when they vote.

The cost for a Lee County voter to return an absentee ballot is 65 cents, the same as in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Pinellas offers 14 ballot return sites throughout the county so that voters can return their mail ballots without buying stamps.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the postage needed to return a mail ballot there is $1.50.

Elections officials don’t like to say it publicly, but they have agreements with the U.S. Postal Service to pay for postage due on ballot envelopes.

For the first time, Hillsborough is prepaying the postage for all of its six-page mail ballots, as a convenience to voters. The cost is about $105,000.

Deirdre Macnab of Winter Park, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the length of the ballot may make legislators regret their decision to reduce the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. The group challenged the decision in court.

Fired Elections Officials Sue Ohio Secretary of State For Wrongful Termination | ThinkProgress


Fired Elections Officials Sue Ohio Secretary of State For Wrongful Termination | ThinkProgress.

Two Montgomery County board of election members are suing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for wrongful termination after they voted to allow early voting on weekends. Husted immediately suspended and then fired them for defying his state-wide directive restricting voting to weekdays only. Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie, who have served on the board for a collective 28 years, filed the federal lawsuit Monday morning. Besides accusing Husted of wrongful termination, the two Democrats are asking for a temporary reinstatement as the Montgomery County elections board comes up against the September 11 deadline to hire new members in order to continue operations. Husted is currently grappling with multiple lawsuits against his office and is appealing a recent decision to restore early voting on the three-day period before Election Day.

Obama Appoints Record Number Of Women Judges To Federal Bench


Obama Appoints Record Number Of Women Judges To Federal Bench.

WASHINGTON — With the confirmation of Stephanie Rose as a U.S. district court judge on Monday, President Barack Obama has put 72 women on the federal bench — the most ever appointed by a president in one term. It also ties the number former President George W. Bush had confirmed in his entire eight-year presidency, according to numbers provided by the White House.

In an 89-1 vote, the U.S. Senate voted to approve Rose as a judge in the Southern District of Iowa. She is the first woman to ever serve on this court, and it’s the sixth time that Obama has put a woman on the bench for the first time in various courtrooms.

Former President Bill Clinton had the most number of female judges confirmed during his entire presidency — 111 — but just 61 of them were appointed in his first term.

Beyond women on the bench, Obama has had a remarkably strong record on diversifying the federal judiciary. The AP reported last year that Obama is “the first president who hasn’t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships.”

Obama has had 29 minority women confirmed to the federal bench, compared to 22 during Bush’s presidency. He has also had 31 African-American federal judges confirmed, compared to 26 for Bush. Three openly gay judges have been confirmed as federal judges under Obama; there were zero confirmed during Bush’s term.

“At this time, it’s beyond dispute that having a diverse set of judges improves the quality of justice for everybody,” said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. “And that is certainly true for having women on the bench as well as men. A woman’s perspective can enrich the way women understand the practicalities of the application of legal issues to real life.”

Greenberger pointed to the effect that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in the 2003 case of Arizona student Savana Redding, whose mother sued the school after after a nurse and an administrative aide strip-searched her to see if she had unauthorized prescription-strength ibuprofen on her.

During oral arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer — who was also nominated by former President Bill Clinton — said he didn’t understand why Redding believed her rights had been violated, since children also change together in locker rooms.

Ginsburg, the only woman on the court at the time, responded by letting her male colleagues know how traumatic it could be for a young woman to undergo such an experience.

“Maybe a 13-year-old boy in a locker room doesn’t have that same feeling about his body,” said Ginsburg. “But a girl who’s just at the age where she is developing, whether she has developed a lot … or … has not developed at all (might be) embarrassed about that.”

As Charlie Savage of The New York Times noted last month, Obama has lagged in his judicial nominations and is “set to end his first term with dozens fewer lower-court appointments than both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush achieved in their first four years.”

While Greg Craig, Obama’s first White House counsel, said the lower number comes in part from a deliberate strategy by the Obama administration to nominate fewer — and more moderate — judges, the president’s nominees have also been blocked by Senate Republicans who have objected to even uncontroversial individuals.

“There’s been a very distressing slowdown in the consideration of nominations to courts, so meeting this record and making this record is all the more commendable. It also points out how important it is for the Senate to fill the vacancies,” said Greenberger. “There are a number of uncontroversial nominations that include women that need to be considered by the Senate.”

According to statistics put out by the NWLC last month, 31 percent of the active judges on the 13 federal courts of appeal are women. Approximately 30 percent of active U.S. district court judges are women.