A recent Medicare scam raises eyebrows… and a number of old questions.
By Micah Hanks
In an operation spanning five states, federal authorities made arrests Friday after a sting operation revealed that a network of scam artists were reaping millions off fraudulent Medicare practices. In the Miami area alone, an expected $140 million had resulted from 33 participants defrauding Medicare, involving a variety of multiple-orders and treatments for which bills were delivered, in the absence of the services themselves. The raids were announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who met in Miami Friday to discuss health care fraud prevention.
Since 1965, Medicare has provided a taxpayer-funded system where medical treatment is made available to people 65 and older under a single-payer system. Taking the circumstances above into consideration, there are two outstanding elements that should make the average law-abiding citizen’s blood boil: first, those orchestrating the ongoing heist consisted of doctors, clinic owners, and recruiters who were paying-off patients to submit their Medicare information for use in the scam, even going so far as to provide bonus incentives when they brought others aboard. Even worse, during the time those extorting money from the system were benefiting from their corruption, we must face the sobering reality that taxpayers were the ones picking up the tab.
The anger evoked by such circumstances may make it simpler to overlook the merits of the Medicare system, which in the past has managed to assist in providing affordable coverage for pensioners. However, from the time of its inception, there have been those who warned that the Medicare system, along with Social Security, might fail if ever there were a lull in population growth among younger taxpayers providing support, versus the number elderly people benefiting from it. As it turns out, everything’s eventual: the New York Times reported in March that the Social Security system will pay out more in benefits in 2010 than it receives in support from payroll taxes. Sadly, though it comes as no surprise, economic indicators suggest Medicare, with its own ongoing financial challenges, could be the next victim: in the 2009 report from the Medicare Board of Trustees, the projected date of Health Insurance Trust Fund exhaustion is expected to be 2017, which, according to the board, is “two years earlier than in last year’s report, when dedicated revenues would be sufficient to pay 81 percent of Health Insurance costs.”
Friday’s revelation that such large-scale fraud of the Medicare system was taking place shows us how easily taxpayer money can literally be stolen, although some of Medicare’s critics over the years might have argued that the money, deducted from American’s payroll taxes, had been “stolen” money to begin with. And yet, arguably, the most tragic element here that no amount of money or taxation, it seems, will keep this ship afloat for much longer.
Image by Charles Williams via Flickr