Commentary: Medicare, Medicaid abuse must stop

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Stolen Medicare identification numbers, falsified prescriptions, kickbacks to patients. Bills for unnecessary HIV infusion therapy, fake care of diabetic patients and medical equipment and inhalation drugs that never got to patients because doctors never prescribed them.

Taxpayers pay an estimated $60 billion a year for scam artists to get rich off the nation's health care programs for the elderly, disabled or poor, with South Florida at the epicenter of fraud. Miami prosecutors have charged about 800 Medicare offenders since 2005, uncovering $2 billion in false claims.

This abuse of the public trust can't go on. Certainly not if President Barack Obama expects Americans to back reforms that would make healthcare affordable and accessible to all Americans, including the 40 million-plus now uninsured.

So the administration's new mission to combat scammers is welcome news. It has committed to step up enforcement in the Medicare program by 50 percent, adding $311 million in fiscal 2010. It would clamp down on schemes from Miami to Los Angeles, establishing new federal strike forces in Detroit and Houston, too – the top four cities for fraud. Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services will work closely to share intelligence and check billings – not months and years after the fraud has occurred and criminals have left the country, but, rather, as those bills are filed for payment.

That should be just the beginning if voters are to trust the president and Congress to deliver healthcare reform that's neither wasteful nor invites fraud.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.