Magazine article Insight on the News

Corporate Medicare Cheats Get Treated with Kid Gloves

Magazine article Insight on the News

Corporate Medicare Cheats Get Treated with Kid Gloves

Article excerpt

Two recent reports confirm that the Medicare health-insurance program continues to be plundered on a grand scale -- losing an estimated $13.5 billion to fraud and mismanagement last year, according to an audit, or about 8 cents of every dollar it spent. The reports also show that health-care companies complicit in the biggest acts of piracy, when they're caught in the act, are being let off easy by the Health Care Financing Administration, or HCFA. The HCFA is settling for repayments that only are a fraction of what taxpayers are owed.

Although Medicare's estimated losses are down considerably from several years ago, when they were estimated at roughly $20 billion annually, the new figure is about a $1 billion increase over 1998's estimated losses -- seen as a positive sign by HCFA administrators. "These results show that our progress is not a onetime phenomenon but something sustainable on which we can build," HCFA administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle recently told members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, not all of whom seemed convinced that wasting just $13 billion annually earned HCFA a gold star.

But while HCFA often talks tough about cracking down on doctors or healthcare companies caught stealing from the program, in reality they've treated the biggest offenders with kid gloves, according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office, or GAO. Like a priest trying to chastise wayward choirboys, the agency since 1998 has promised to go easy on naughty healthcare providers who step forward to confess their sins, pledging that the confessors won't be blackballed from participating in the program. …

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