Tag: Medicare

$154 Million Medicaid Fraud Settlement a Sign of Govt Failure, Not Success

The federal government, four states, and a whistleblower have extracted a $154 million settlement from Par Pharmaceuticals for fraudulently inflating the prices it charges Medicaid, according to the Associated Press.

With Medicare and Medicaid losing roughly $100 billion each year to fraud and other improper payments, however, the fact that a paltry $154 million settlement is news can only mean that federal and state governments are not even trying to combat fraud in any serious way.   As I explain in this video, that’s because politicians have almost zero incentive to do so – which makes massive amounts of fraud an inherent part of these programs:

Under ObamaCare, Medicare and Medicaid fraud will only get worse.

Washington Post Asks for Budget Plans

The Washington Post’s editorial board issued a challenge to the president and his Republican opponents: “show us your plans” for deficit reduction. In fact, the Post says it would be “delighted” to receive plans from its readers. However, the Post isn’t interested in “meaningless promises” to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse”—it wants specifics:

Here’s what we’re not looking for: pablum about eliminating unnecessary spending without identifying where. Gauzy rhetoric about making hard choices without making them. Meaningless promises about eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Broad assertions about where to find the money — “Medicare savings,” “tax reform” — without specifics. Arbitrary spending caps without accompanying details about how those limits are to be met. If you believe, for example, that federal spending should be kept to a specific share of the economy — 18 percent? 20 percent? — show the plausible path to getting there.

Amen. Chris Edwards and I have been beating the drum for Republican policymakers in particular to get specific about what they would cut. Chris recently noted that with the exception of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and perhaps a few others, Republicans aren’t putting much effort into identifying programs to terminate. And I have noted that “It’s more common to hear Republicans blubber on about ‘reducing waste, fraud, and abuse’ in government programs and ‘saving’ the pillars of the welfare state (Social Security and Medicare) for ‘future generations.’”

As for deficit reduction ideas from Washington Post readers, we have a balanced budget plan on our Downsizing the Federal Government website. In fact, not only do we have a plan, we have over three dozen essays on numerous government agencies that provide details on what programs to cut and why.

Medicare Fraud: Et Tu, Reverend?

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

On Tuesday, a jury found [south Los Angeles pastor Christopher] Iruke, his wife and an employee who worked for the couple guilty of healthcare fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud…

Authorities said Iruke and associates often supplied power wheelchairs to Medicare patients perfectly capable of walking on their own —including one who did jumping jacks to show agents he never needed one. Also among the patients Iruke and his associates filed reimbursement claims for were two people who were deceased, according to court papers…

After purchasing the wheelchairs at about $900 wholesale and paying for the prescriptions, he pocketed the remainder of about $6,000 in taxpayer money he received as Medicare reimbursements, according to court documents. The pastor operated four medical equipment supply companies between May 2002 and September 2009 as part of the scheme, according to authorities.

In all, Iruke’s companies filed for $14.2 million in claims and received about $6.6 million in reimbursements.

The money funded a lavish lifestyle, including several luxury cars, international travel, and about half a million dollars of remodeling on his Baldwin Hills home, prosecutors contended in trial…

The case was brought as part of a federal strike force on Medicare fraud, which has resulted in charges against more than 1,000 people across the country who billed the program $2.3 billion, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Apologies for the long excerpt, but this stuff is fascinating for several reasons.  The ease with which these folks defrauded Medicare.  The vast gulf between the market price for a wheelchair ($900) and what Medicare pays ($6,000) – which practically begs people to defraud the program. The fact that DOJ pats itself on the back for nabbing the perpetrators of $2.3 billion of fraudulent billings even though that represents a much smaller number of fraudulent payments, which in turn account for a teeny-tiny share of the official estimate that Medicare loses $48 billion to fraud and other improper payments per year, which itself understates the extent of fraud in the program.

As I explain in this article and the below video, the extent of Medicare and Medicaid fraud is truly mind-blowing.

ObamaCare will bring even more fraud.  And efforts to combat Medicare, Medicaid, and ObamaCare fraud will always be inadequate until Congress reforms or scraps these entitlement programs.

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How Your Government Deceives You, ‘Social Insurance’ Edition

From my former Cato colleague, Will Wilkinson:

The trick to weaving an effective and politically-robust safety net for those who most need one is designing it to appear to benefit everyone, especially those who don’t need it. The whole thing turns on maintaining the illusion that payroll taxes are “premiums” or “insurance contributions” and that subsequent transfers from the government are “benefits” one has paid for through a lifetime of payroll deductions. The insurance schema protects the main redistributive work of the programme by obscuring it. As a matter of legal fact, payroll taxes are just taxes; they create no legal entitlement to benefits. The government can and does spend your Social Security and Medicare taxes on killer drones. But the architects of America’s big social-insurance schemes, such as Frances Perkins and Wilbur Cohen, thought it very important that it doesn’t look that way. That’s why you you see specific deductions for Social Security and Medicare on your paycheck. And that’s why the government maintains these shell “trust funds” where you are meant to believe your “insurance contributions” are kept.

Alas, like Social Security and Medicare themselves, the deceptions that protect these entitlement programs cannot go on forever.

Generally, liberals are profoundly conservative about the classic Perkins-Cohen architecture of America’s big entitlement programmes, which they credit for their remarkable popularity and stability. Yet that architecture offers very few degrees of freedom for significant reform. Crunch time is coming, though, and sooner or later something’s got to give.

If Wilkinson’s overlords at The Economist demand that he misspell program, they should be consistent and allow him to abandon the American convention of mislabeling leftists as liberals.

Budget Plans: Gang of Six and Senator Coburn

The “Gang of Six” senators has released an outline of budget reforms that would supposedly reduce deficits by $3.7 trillion over 10 years. Revenues would rise by at least $1 trillion, while spending would be theoretically trimmed by various procedural mechanisms. The plan promises to “strengthen the safety net,” “maintain investments,” and “maintain the basic structure” of Medicare and Medicaid, which doesn’t sound very reform-minded to me.

The Gang of Six plan is a grander version of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s recent debt-limit proposal, which was aimed at putting off any spending cuts. The Gang outline has a few specific cuts, but the document mainly consists of promises to restrain spending and raise taxes in the future.

I’m surprised that Sen. Tom Coburn supports the Gang plan because his office has just released a massive study chock-full of specific spending-cut ideas. The Gang plan is all about avoiding specifics, while Coburn’s plan has 621 pages of details.

Coburn’s “Back in Black” plan would reduce deficits by $9 trillion over the next decade. The plan includes some tax increases, but the core of the document is a line-by-line analysis of every department’s budget, with lists of programs to cut and terminate. The plan includes a wealth of useful information that will aid policymakers interested in cutting spending for years to come.

So congratulations to Roland, Joelle, and the whole Coburn team for their late nights spent pouring through the budget, and for their great job documenting their findings with more than 3,000 endnotes.

Every Senate and House office should perform a similar exercise of proposing specific cuts. The government faces a debt crisis, yet only Coburn, Sen. Rand Paul, and perhaps a few others in Congress have put any effort into identifying unneeded programs.

Look on the official websites of most members of Congress and you will see discussions in support of spending on education, seniors, energy, research, highways and many other activities. When members are in front of TV cameras, they sound like they take the debt crisis seriously, but most congressional websites reveal a different mindset where federal spending is always wonderful and helpful to society.

Coburn’s staff tells me that about a dozen staffers chipped in on its Back in Black effort in recent months. If other House and Senate offices went through such an exercise, it would help members clarify their positions about the role of government and help them think about spending trade-offs.

My summer homework assignment for every congressional office is to go through a Coburn/Paul-style budget downsizing exercise. That could lead to more serious spending debates and more concrete proposals than the generally meaningless bullets points issued by the Gang of Six.

GAO’s 159th Report on Medicare/Medicaid Fraud Finds Anti-Fraud Measures ‘Inadequate’

Today, the Government Accountability Office will release a new report on fraud in Medicare and Medicaid.  By my count, it is the 159th report the GAO has issued on fraud in these programs since 1986.  According to the Associated Press:

The federal government’s systems for analyzing Medicare and Medicaid data for possible fraud are inadequate and underused, making it more difficult to detect the billions of dollars in fraudulent claims paid out each year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office report said the systems don’t even include Medicaid data. Furthermore, 639 analysts were supposed to have been trained to use the system - yet only 41 have been so far, it said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - which administer the taxpayer-funded health care programs for the elderly, poor and disabled - lacks plans to finish the systems projected to save $21 billion. The technology is crucial to making a dent in the $60 billion to $90 billion in fraudulent claims paid out each year.

In this article for National Review, I explain that there are reasons why those tools are, and will remain, “inadequate and underused.”

Even the New York Times Wants to Cut Medicaid

From their editorial the other day:

There is no doubt that Medicaid… has to be cut substantially in future decades to help curb federal deficits. For cash-strapped states, program cuts may be necessary right now. But in reducing spending, government needs to ensure any changes will not cause undue harm to millions.

How would the Times cut Medicaid spending? The magic of central planning!

The best route to savings — already embodied in the reform law — is to make the health care system more efficient over all so that costs are reduced for Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers as well. Various pilot programs to reduce costs might be speeded up….

And if government were smart, rather than stupid, that would work.

I’ve got a better idea for cutting Medicaid that meets the Times’s criterion of not causing undue harm to millions.