MEDICARE FRAUD: Agencies Waste Billions of Dollars
Erroneous Medicare payments accounted for more than 50% of the $20.7 billion squandered by 12 of the largest federal agencies last year, a General Accounting Office review revealed yesterday. The AP/Lexington Herald-Leader reports that $13.5 billion in Medicare dollars was lost as a result of improper payments in 1999 -- a significant percentage of Medicare's $171 billion budget. This amount represents an increase from the $12.6 billion in 1998 Medicare losses, yet shows improvement over the $20.3 billion lost in 1997. Noting that the erroneous or fraudulent payments included the provision of "federal benefits to dead people" or "making duplicate payments to contractors," Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who ordered the investigative study of the agencies' annual financial reports, introduced a bill yesterday that would require agencies to audit their payments with practices similar to those used by private organizations. Agencies currently do not have to identify improper payments, and the GAO conceded that the problem may be substantially greater than noted on financial statements. Thompson called it "astounding that more than $20 billion of taxpayer money was wasted by just a handful of federal programs, and that's just a drop in the bucket" (Zuckerbrod, 9/13). Office of Management and Budget Executive Associate Director and Controller Josh Gotbaum said that the Clinton administration intends to establish guidelines by the end of the year to urge other agencies to create tracking systems that will impede wrongful payments. Last year, the GAO discovered that nine federal agencies had lost $19.1 billion due to improper payments (AP/Washington Times, 9/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.