The federal government is once again in the hot seat for doling out hundreds of millions in erroneous benefits to the wrong people after watchdogs reported that about 200 people received $10 million in Medicaid benefits, despite being dead for years.
The Government Accountability Office’s latest report on improper payments focuses specifically on the Medicaid program. Auditors said that in 2011, four states reported that at least 8,600 people received double benefits from different states—costing the government about $18.3 million in extra payments.
That’s a fraction of the estimated improper-payment rate of 6.7 percent, or $17.5 billion, for the Medicaid program in 2014, which is an increase over its 2013 estimate of 5.8 percent, or $14.4 billion.
Separately, auditors said providers who had previously had their licenses suspended or revoked received about $2.8 million in Medicaid benefits they should have never received.
Of course, this represents just a tiny dent in the annual $310 billion annual Medicaid payments. Though auditors say their review only included four states and that fraud within the program is likely much more widespread.
The report comes at a time when improper payments government-wide are at a record high. An earlier report from the GAO revealed that the government handed out $124.7 billion in improper payments through just three programs including Medicare, Medicaid and The Earned Income Tax Credit last year. That represents a 17 percent increase from the previous year when improper payments totaled $105.8 billion.
Congress and the administration have both attempted to crack down on improper payments in the largest benefit programs. There are a handful of laws requiring departments to document the amount of improper payments they issue each year and then report to Congress how much it costs the taxpayers. However, even the agencies that follow that mandate are still struggling to curb their improper payment rates.
The GAO has consistently included Medicaid on its “High Risk” list of federal programs that are vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse because of its improper payment rates.
The auditors say that they expect improper payments in the program to increase as more people use the program through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Likewise, GAO expects Medicare to see more improper payments as well as more people enter the program.
“With outlays for major programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, expected to increase over the next few years, it is critical that actions are taken to reduce improper payments,” the auditors noted in a report published in March.
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