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Officials need time to plan number removal

Five years after being told to look at taking Social Security numbers off Medicare cards, Medicare officials say they still need six more months to figure out how much it will cost.

At a sometimes-tense House hearing, Medicare Chief Information Officer Tony Trenkle assured lawmakers that the issue is a priority but couldn’t offer a timetable for when the change might be made.

Congressional auditors said in a report Wednesday that an earlier cost estimate of $800 million to $845 million was faulty, partly because of insufficient and inconsistent data. The Government Accountability Office estimated as many as 48 million Medicare beneficiaries risk having their identity stolen because their Social Security numbers are displayed on Medicare cards required by most physicians’ offices and other health care providers.

CAMPAIGN

Romney to take part in multistate bus tour

Mitt Romney’s campaign is finalizing plans for a multistate bus tour to begin late next week.

The Republican presidential candidate is expected to visit Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, although the schedule may change in the coming days. Romney returned from a bumpy overseas trip late Tuesday. He was spending Wednesday in meetings at his Boston campaign headquarters.

Mr. Romney is scheduled to campaign in the Denver area Thursday. Aides report that he’ll attend a Republican Governors Association fundraiser in Aspen later that night. A handful of governors often mentioned as possible Romney running mates are scheduled to attend.

Next week’s bus tour could be part of the rollout for a running mate. Republican officials are expecting that announcement any day.

COMMERCE

Battered housing industry showing signs of life

Another strong gain in home building pushed U.S. construction spending up for a third straight month in June, a further indication that the battered housing industry is showing signs of life.

Construction spending rose 0.4 percent in June following an upwardly revised 1.6 percent gain in May that was the biggest one-month increase since December, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The June advance pushed spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $842.1 billion, up 12.9 percent from a 12-year low hit in February 2011. Still, the level is roughly half of what economists consider to be healthy. The construction industry has been flashing signs of improvement while other sectors of the economy have slowed.

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