This past Tuesday, July 28th, the Heritage Foundation held its weekly Bloggers’ Briefing, playing host to a discussion of Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Framed as a further complication to be explored in the debate over the health care reform plan, the talk featured commentary both from scholarly and governmental sources, providing further ammunition to be used against public plan-based care. The discussion was also especially timely, given that legislation intended to combat Medicare fraud had been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mel Martinez (R-FL).
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, opened the discussion by making both familiar and topic-specific criticisms of the Democratic health care plan currently before the Senate, characterizing it as “Massive tax increases for something that’s going to bring dubious results.”
“[The bill] will virtually end private insurance as we know it,” Rep. Camp said. “They’re going to affect up to 60 percent of insurance policies.”
Moreover, Rep. Camp argued, the bill lacked several key components which were necessary, given its ambitious scope. “Any health care reform ought to have a piece on liability reform,” Camp said. “Strong anti-fraud provisions should be in the bill.”
Rep. Camp’s arguments are not without proof. A New York Times story dated July 18, 2005 quoted James Mehmet, former New York City Chief State Investigator of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse, as saying that “about 40% of all [Medicaid] claims [in New York city] are questionable.” According to James Frogue, editor of the recent book Stop Paying the Crooks: Solutions to End the Fraud that Threatens Your Healthcare, these abuses continue to this day. “One quarter of New York’s program cannot be explained [according to claims data],” Frogue told the Bloggers’ Briefing. Moreover, the problem is not unique to New York. “One county in Florida had 20 times the medicare bills of any other county,” Frogue said. “[Nationally], we have $100 billion in fraud in Medicare alone.”
The bipartisan bill of the day notwithstanding, neither Frogue nor Rep. Camp saw any hope for fraud reform under the Democratic regime. “The people creating this public plan option refuse to join it themselves,” Frogue said. “Our guys get this, but we just don’t talk about it nearly enough…[we should] find 80-20 issues, stand next to them and smile.”
Frogue also ridiculed the Democratic argument about how public plan care would lower administrative costs. “That’s because all they do is send checks and don’t look for fraud,” Frogue said, before arguing that other costs involved in public health programs would eclipse the savings incurred by lower administrative costs. “Medicaid spending grew by 12 percent a year from 1969 to 2008,” Frogue said. “If you project for the next forty years, we will spend $17 trillion by 2048.”
When pressed on the question of whether Blue Dog opposition to the Democratic health care bill would make its passage more difficult, Rep. Camp struck an encouraging note. “When [the Blue Dogs] can get out of the fetal position, they’re standing up for principle against a very fierce effort by their leadership,” Rep. Camp said. With respect to said leadership, Rep. Camp had a harsher view. “When we asked them to read the bill before voting on it, their response was ‘don’t tell us what to do,’” Rep. Camp said. On Thursday, July 30, Blue Dog Democrats reached an agreement with House leadership on health care reform.
Rep. Camp also suggested that he would prefer an informed discussion of the issue, even if it meant more voters swinging the way of the public option. “I’m not afraid of the truth,” Rep. Camp said. According to a July 22nd poll by Rasmussen Reports, 53% of Americans currently disapprove of the Democratic health care plan.