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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Medicare fraud outrunning enforcement efforts

By Fred Shulte
The Center for Public Integrity
Originally published on July 1, 2013

Citing massive budget and staff cuts, federal officials are set to scale back or drop a host of investigations into Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse — even though cracking down on government waste and cutting health care costs have been top priorities for the Obama administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is set to lose a total of 400 staffers that are deployed nationwide as a primary defense against health care fraud and abuse. Though agency officials have yet to decide which investigations will be shelved as staff dwindles, the existing staff is already stretched so thin that the agency has failed to act on 1,200 complaints over the past year alleging wrongdoing — and expects that number to rise. The OIG began shedding staff at the beginning of the year.

The budget crunch surfaced during questioning at a June 24 hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The hearing was called to examine prescription drug abuse in Medicare.

Gary Cantrell, Deputy Inspector General for the OIG Office of Investigations, said at the hearing that his unit “is shrinking” even as the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs grow in size and complexity. “We’re set to lose roughly 400 bodies out of a total of 1,800 at our peak in 2012. That’s really limiting our ability to expand our oversight in some of these areas,” he said.

Stuart Wright, Deputy Inspector General for the OIG Office of Evaluations and Inspections, added that 200 of those staffers will have departed by the end of this year and 200 more are out the door by the end of 2015.

The entire story is here.
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