WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Tuesday he’ll bring in high-tech bounty hunters to help root out health care fraud, grabbing a populist idea with bipartisan backing in his final push to overhaul the system.
The White House announcement came as Obama prepared to travel to Missouri today, taking his closing argument to the nation’s heartland. The trip will be his second public appearance this week to rally support and fire up nervous Democrats.
The White House released details of the anti-fraud plan hours after a fresh challenge to the administration from major business groups that unveiled a multimillion-dollar ad campaign arguing that under Obama’s plan “health care costs will go even higher, making a bad economy worse.”
The ad buy, costing between $4 million and $10 million, will start today on national cable TV outlets.
On Capitol Hill, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other senior administration officials met with House and Senate Democratic leaders, who have struggled to secure the votes for the stalled health care legislation.
Obama’s anti-fraud announcement was aimed directly at the political middle.
Waste and fraud are pervasive problems for Medicare and Medicaid, the giant government health insurance programs for seniors and low-income people. Improper payments – in the wrong amounts, to the wrong person or for the wrong reason – totaled an estimated $54 billion in 2009. They range from simple errors such as duplicate billing to elaborate schemes operated by fraudsters peddling everything from wheelchairs to hospice care.
The bounty hunters in this case would be private auditors armed with sophisticated computer programs to scan Medicare and Medicaid billing data for patterns of bogus claims. The auditors would get to keep part of any funds they recover for the government. The White House said a pilot program run by Medicare in California, New York and Texas recouped $900 million for taxpayers from 2005-2008.
The presidential memorandum Obama will sign today directs Cabinet secretaries and agency heads throughout the government to intensify their use of private auditors under current legal authority.