Herald-Whig View

Crackdown on government abuse worth the cost

Posted: Jun. 5, 2017 11:55 am

FRAUD, abuse and errors in government programs had a cost of $136.7 billion in 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a nation where $2.8 trillion in annual assistance is paid out, that 95.6 percent accuracy rate is not good enough.

A crackdown is long overdue, and some states are showing how to address the problem.

Illinois ran its own experiment starting in 2012, when the state hired an outside firm to clean up its Medicaid system. State workers had lacked the staff and the time to double-check its Medicaid rolls. Within a year the state had canceled benefits for almost 150,000 people whose eligibility could not be verified. The savings hit $70 million.

By the end of the next year about 20 percent of those who had been purged from the program completed the necessary paperwork and got re-enrolled.

The Foundation for Government Accountability reports that if all states would start canceling Medicaid benefits for people who have died, those who don't qualify and those who have committed fraud, there would be an annual savings of about $8 billion.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, along with 37 other attorney generals, signed a letter last month calling for greater efforts to catch Medicaid providers who abuse the program.

Using two-pronged efforts -- screening Medicaid recipients and double-checking the bills charged by Medicaid providers -- states can start to reform the system.

Lots of other assistance programs and government systems need reform.

The Internal Revenue Services got a late start in its battle against fraudulent tax returns. It paid nearly $21 billion tax scammers in 2016, about three times what it had paid just two years earlier.

Other agencies have done more to curb abuse. Federal law requires that SNAP recipients undergo eligibility checks every six months in order to remain in the food assistance program.

Cooperation between states and with the federal government is needed to stanch the flow of tax dollars going to criminals. It will take a monumental effort, but the investment should be well worth it.