WASHINGTON, DC - As law enforcement announced a nationwide sting against Medicare fraudsters today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington was putting the finishing touches on legislation aimed at making a significant dent in the problem.
Federal law enforcement officials in Miami today announced the details of a multi-agency strike force operation that resulted in the arrest of 90 people nationwide for defrauding Medicare out of some $260 million.
U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), who have spent a great deal of time examining the problem of Medicare fraud and ways to curtail it, commended the actions announced today by federal officials while also saying that the crackdown illustrates the need to do more to stop Medicare fraud.
Nelson and Collins, along with Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Chuck Grassley(R-IA), have authored legislation to strengthen the government's hand in stopping Medicare fraud. The lawmakers plan to formally file the legislation on Thursday.
"This is exactly why we're doing the legislation," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "We've got to get the problem under control."
Senator Collins added, "For decades, the GAO has identified Medicare as being at high risk for improper payments. This is unacceptable. The loss of these funds not only compromises the financial integrity of the Medicare program, but it also undermines our ability to provide needed health care services to the more than 54 million older and disabled American workers who depend on this vial program. Our legislation emphasizes a strategy to prevent fraud from happening in the first place."
"Medicare provides lifesaving care to some of our nation's most vulnerable citizens," said Sen. Carper. "Unfortunately, too many unscrupulous individuals take advantage of this vital program and end up costing taxpayers millions and shortchanging beneficiaries. It is critical that we do all that we can to curb fraud while protecting beneficiaries and ensuring effective care. This legislation is an important step in combating Medicare fraud and preserving this essential program for the future generations. I commend Sens. Nelson and Collins for their leadership in this effort."
"Our bill will build on the Physician Payments Sunshine Act that I co-authored," Grassley said. "It requires HHS to use available data, including data from the Sunshine Act, to verify doctors' reported information about ownership interests in organizations that bill Medicare. This will help flush out any doctors who commit fraud from their own facilities."
Specifically, the legislation will require Medicare to verify that those wishing to enroll in the program have not owned a company that previously defrauded the government. Currently, Medicare relies on self-reported information. As a consequence, a provider who previously had an ownership interest in an organization that defrauded Medicare could potentially get back into the program by using a different name and failing to disclose their interest in the previous organization.
The bill will also allow private insurers to share information about potentially fraudulent providers with Medicare, and requires new medical coding systems to be tested before they're deployed to ensure Medicare's fraud prevention systems work properly. Additionally, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission will be allowed to make recommendations regarding fraud prevention and Medicare will be required to develop a strategy to reliably estimate just how many taxpayer dollars are lost each year to fraud.
According to a recent estimate, fraud in the country's Medicare system takes some $60 billion to $90 billion annually out of the system and puts it into the pockets of crooks.