President Clinton announced efforts Tuesday to reduce the amount of fraud in the government’s Medicare program, saying that efforts to bilk the federal health care system force senior citizens to pay billions of dollars a year in higher premiums.
“The best way to prevent fraud is to keep dishonest doctors and other scam artists out of the Medicare system in the first place,” Clinton said at a White House ceremony.
The president said he would send Congress legislation to bar doctors and other health care providers who have been convicted of felonies from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The bill would also make health care business owners supply their Social Security numbers to the government so that rip-off artists could be prevented from jumping from state to state, and so that providers could be prevented from pocketing overpayments simply by declaring bankrupcy.
“These steps,” said Clinton, “will save the American people a great deal of money. They will also buy something that money cannot alone buy - a greater sense of security and peace of mind for our parents, our most vulnerable families, and children.”
Republicans applauded the president’s efforts, but said the changes amount to only small adjustments in a new law already passed by Congress last year. They suggested that the effort was largely a public relations tactic.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said that “while every step in the fight against fraud and waste is important, this proposal will have a minimal impact on maintaining the financial security of Medicare and Medicaid.”
Republicans, whom Clinton attacked mercilessly in the last election campaign over their plans to restructure Medicare, are daring Clinton to go first this year in making a proposal to assure the long-term solvency of the program.
Tuesday’s announcement, they said, was far from sufficient to deal with the projected $60 billion deficit in the Medicare trust fund expected by the year 2002. “The projected shortfall … is almost 60 times what this bill hopes to save” Grassley said.
The Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill that passed Congress in 1996 gave Congress authority to expand a five-state anti-fraud initiative nationwide, and beefed up funds for the the Health and Human Services Department to conduct health care investigations. Last month, the agency announced plans to increase the number of inspectors and auditors by 20 percent this year and to double the number by the year 2002.
Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat who attended the White House ceremony with Clinton, expects to save $192.5 million from anti-fraud efforts in Florida alone over the next two years.
Florida has had much of its success through making “site visits” to health care providers and making the owners of firms that provide equipment like wheelchairs, transportation services, and home health care post $50,000 bonds before they open for business.