They don't seem that interested in hot pursuit. It took private sleuths hired by Medicare an average of six months last year to refer fraud cases to law enforcement.
According to congressional investigators, the exact average was 178 days. By that time, many cases go cold, making it difficult to catch perpetrators, much less recover money for taxpayers.
A recent inspector general report also raised questions about the contractors, who play an important role in Medicare's overall effort to combat fraud.
Out of $835 million in questionable Medicare payments identified by private contractors in 2007, the government was only able to recover some $55 million, or about 7 percent, the report found.
Medicare overpayments — they can be anything from a billing error to a flagrant scam — totaled more than $36 billion in 2009, according to the Obama administration.
President Barack Obama has set a high priority on battling health care fraud and waste, hoping for savings to help pay for the new law covering millions now uninsured.
Medicare's private eyes don't seem to be helping much.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questions whether taxpayers are getting good value from for-hire fraud busters. His office, which is investigating the contracting program, obtained Medicare data for the last four years on how long it took to refer cases to federal agents.
"Medicare is already a pay-and-chase system when it comes to fraud, waste and abuse," said Grassley. "Providers are paid first, then questioned if there's a problem. Add to that mix contractors who sit on cases of ongoing fraud when they should be referring them to law enforcement, and you have a recipe for disaster."
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