- - Monday, October 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ever heard of the Government Accountability Office? The Obama administration wishes you never hear from the folks there after the truly astounding figures they just released. The GAO is a key watchdog group and their numbers show the government is on track to waste an absolutely massive amount of money this year. So what does the Obama’s administration do? Actively take steps to enable more fraud. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.

Here are the facts — the cold, hard numbers, because math is nonpartisan. Numbers and cents don’t lie and it doesn’t take a Common Core math education to know that $125 billion wasted on fraud and improper payments is horrendous. After releasing these numbers, the Government Accountability Office may have made some enemies on Pennsylvania Avenue. Doesn’t the GAO know a staggering $125 billion is for the greater good? Just think for a minute — 1 billion is 1,000 million. We lost 125 of those, most of which came from Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Oh well, it’s not a trillion and we probably lose that much every year. Right? No, this is a nearly 20 percent increase from last year. It’s just a gigantic amount of money by any measure.

Consider: $125 billion is:

• Four times the size of the entire U.S. soda market.

• About one and a half times the size of the sequestration cuts in 2013.

• Roughly twice the gross domestic product of Kenya.

• Enough money to buy every American (319 million of them) a 42-inch LG 1080p big-screen television.

• Approximately the amount it would cost to buy every child living in poverty meals (at $22) for every day of the year.

I want my 42-inch big screen. When I was a kid we heard about $500 hammers and how the government was getting scammed. Heck, we even had the president of a company in my small town actually get shut down and he did some time in one of those country club prisons for overcharging the government. Surely, things have gotten better in the last few years with technological advancements? Again, sadly, no, things are worsening. The amount the government is wasting has skyrocketed up 356 percent since 2003, when it stood at a mere $35 billion per year, according to the GAO.

President Obama and his administration must be working overtime to identify ways to stop this travesty. This must not stand. Upon closer examination, the even more scandalous fact is that the president’s bureaucrats have been moving to enable even more fraud. Here’s how they’re doing it.

In August, for example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency through which most of the improper payments are moving — extended an enforcement “moratorium” on a regulation designed to keep hospitals from exploiting a billing loophole that has netted them millions in improper gains.

CMS also has in place highly restrictive limits on audits for the recipients of these payments, making it difficult to track how taxpayers are being defrauded. Specifically, the agency allows only 2 percent of claims to be audited by special private organizations called Recovery Audit Contractors, that are paid a portion of the fraudulent payments they help the government recover.

Government is looking the other way to line the pockets of all the right people. If you want to crack down on the $125 billion in losses, you don’t help the people who are taking the money by not enforcing regulations designed to stop it, and you don’t only audit 2 percent of the claims. It seems like increasing the number of claims audits and actually enforcing the laws we have would be a couple easy steps to take to curtail the outright piracy of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Surprisingly, last month, National Public Radio reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget chief, Shaun Donovan, had been pushing the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses CMS, to crack down on Medicare fraud. Mr. Donovan told Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to explore “more aggressive strategies.”

It’s unclear whether Mr. Donovan knew the damaging GAO report was coming or not, but the administration clearly has a lot to answer for.

With billions in fraud and an administration working to enable it, is this the next major Obama scandal?

Steve C. Sherman is a writer, radio commentator, former Iowa House Republican candidate, and the author of “Mercy Shot” (Ancient Path Publishing, 2013).

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