MEDICARE: Clinton Vows to Fight Fraud
President Clinton announced plans to create a fraud-fighting team to "crack down on bogus insurance claims and other schemes to bilk" Medicare, the Washington Post reports. Clinton said, "Medicare fraud and waste are more than an abuse of the system, they are an abuse of the taxpayer. By overbilling, charging for phony procedures and selling substandard supplies, Medicare cheats cost taxpayers hundreds of millions a year." In his FY 2001 budget, Clinton said he will advocate placing federal agents in the offices of those health insurance companies and other contractors who process Medicare bills. He also will seek additional funds to finance "new technologies" that will track health care providers' false claims. During his weekly radio address, Clinton asked Congress to allow Medicare to broaden the pool of private sector companies eligible to provide program services and process health care claims, as current law makes it difficult to discipline contractors. The Clinton administration's efforts to curb Medicare fraud appear to have been successful thus far. Unnecessary Medicare expenses dropped from $23.2 billion in 1996 to $12.6 billion in 1998 -- and last year, the government either won or negotiated more than $524 million in judgements, settlements and administrative orders in health care fraud cases. Of that total $490 million has been returned to the Medicare trust fund. Medicare itself has become more vigilant in preventing fraud, as the program prevented $5.3 billion in inappropriate payments last year.
Republicans on the Prowl
Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) praised Clinton for attacking fraud, but said that "Republicans will scrutinize the president's budget proposal and the manner in which it is to be implemented." He said, "Republicans know that you cannot fight waste, fraud and abuse in Washington by adding on more Washington bureaucrats with bigger budgets. You can't fight fire by adding gasoline" (Barr, 1/24). Republicans have their own plan for attacking waste, fraud and abuse, with House Budget Chair John Kasich (R-Ohio) planning to kick off a campaign this week with a study that chronicles more than $19 billion in waste. The waste in Kasich's study comes from Medicare, food stamps and other benefits, which could prove politically risky for Republicans who may be "reluctant to be seen as criticizing in an election year." Democrats also seem to be ready to join the effort, making the political payoff for Republicans limited. Still, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) are poised to move forward (Fram, Associated Press, 1/24).