FBI Appears To Have Improperly Used Funds for Health Care Fraud Investigations, GAO Report Says
FBI over the past four years appears to have improperly used funds allocated for health care fraud investigations for other purposes, such as counterterrorism, according to a Government Accountability Office report scheduled for release this week, the New York Times reports. FBI receives $114 million annually from the Medicare trust fund to investigate fraud against Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs, the report said.
According to the report, FBI "was unable to track overall costs related to health care fraud investigations" and only offered "minimal assurance" that the agency used the funds for such investigations, with much of the information "reported from memory." In addition, the report said that FBI agents "previously devoted to health care fraud investigations were shifted to counterterrorism activities" over the last three years. The number of FBI agents who worked on health care fraud investigations was 31% lower than the budgeted number in 2002 and 26% lower than the budgeted number in 2003, according to the report.
The report recommended that FBI and the Department of Justice increase oversight of funds allocated for health care fraud investigations. The Bush administration has estimated that Medicare in 2004 made $19.9 billion in overpayments to physicians, hospitals and other health care providers.
FBI CFO Joseph Ford said that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shifted agency priorities from health care to terrorism but added that the agency currently considers health care fraud "one of its top white-collar criminal investigative priorities." However, Ford agreed that FBI should increase oversight of funds allocated for health care fraud investigations.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) -- chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid issues -- requested the report. He said, "It's inexcusable that the government cannot account for millions of dollars set aside to fight health care fraud," adding that FBI and DOJ "have an obligation to taxpayers to make sure that money directed to fighting health care fraud is, in fact, used to fight health care fraud" (Pear, New York Times, 5/16).