What We Talk About When We Talk About Wasteful Spending

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by in Uncategorized

“It’s like taking candy from a baby.” – ‘Tony,’ a con artist who defrauded Medicare of $20M

This week’s 60 Minutes kicked off with a look at Medicare fraud in South Florida, where scamming the government for reimbursements of phony health provisions has supplanted peddling cocaine as the crime of choice for those not enrolled in the New Economy.
The thieves all talk about how easy it is to con the government out of thousands and even millions of dollars – there are few auditors and Medicare is, well, enormous. It’s reminiscent of the port security issue that John Kerry tried to raise in the 2004 election; a problem of such scope and great potential to wreak havoc, and yet, strangely, it doesn’t seem to register with people. Kerry called out Homeland Security for inspecting around 1% of all containers shipped into the country, and while he was correct that the best way to prevent a nuclear weapon from entering the country would be to beef up port security, the issue never gained traction. Which makes sense. After all, no matter how poor our port security standards, a weapon had not been smuggled and then detonated – it was all hypothetical.
Medicare fraud isn’t hypothetical, of course. The dollars stolen are real, and when Democrats and Republicans alike bitch about out-of-control health care costs, they’re in no small part complaining about the cash lost to unscrupulous hospitals and petty criminals who have found a system that’s all too easy to game.
Unlike the would-be disasters that could (still) be smuggled through our ports, there is a very easy solution to this real quandary.
Hire more auditors.
The dogma of smaller government would suggest that putting more workers on the government payroll, particularly those with such fine benefits who work in a department that is an absolute money pit.
Something tells me that however much the auditors would make, it would be less than the estimated $60B that vanished because of graft in recent years. President Obama has accentuated the fiscal argument for health care reform far more than the moral case, and combating fraud would seem to be an easy sell to any member of Congress who shares his concern with the cost of health care, which seems to be all of them.
Unfortunately, any tweaks to the current system face poor prospects because the larger overhaul takes precedence over easily implemented fixes, much as Senator Kerry’s warnings about the ports couldn’t be separated from the fact that he was trying to unseat George W. Bush.
I suppose this actually makes the case that the large overhaul needs to be fast-tracked so that smaller reforms can also be implemented; but even if the big reform movement falls by the wayside, we should still hire more auditors. Otherwise we face the same risk that we’ve been running since 2004. How is port security, by the way? I’ve heard precious little of it in the past five years.

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