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Opinion: Morning Examiner

Federal bureaucrats get it right on four out of five payments and we're supposed to cheer?

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Beltway Confidential,Mark Tapscott,Morning Examiner,Medicare and Medicaid,Eric Holder,Inspectors General,Waste and Fraud,Justice Department

Nobody knows for sure how much the federal government loses annually to waste, fraud, and incompetence, but the tab just for improper payments by Medicare last year was nearly $30 billion.

For Medicaid, the total lost to improper payments was nearly $20 billion, and more than $13 billion for Medicare Advantage, according to paymentaccuracy.gov.

Here's another way to look at those figures: Medicare got it wrong on 8.5 percent of its total payments of nearly $350 billion in 2012. For Medicaid and Medicare Advantage, the error rate percentages were 7.1 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively.

But wait, there's more!

It's bad enough that the federal government's three biggest health care programs have between them a 9 percent average for improper payments.

It's even worse at the Department of Treasury, which 22 percent of the time sends Earned Income Tax Credits to undeserving people, for a total of $12.6 billion last year.

And at the Department of Labor, the error rate percentage is 11.4 percent on unemployment insurance payments, and it's 9.1 percent for Social Security Administration disability subsidies.

It's getting better

Believe it or not, the government's overall estimated improper payments error rate for 2012 was 4 percent, an improvement over 2011's 4.69 percent and 2010's 5.29 percent.

Federal program managers claim to recoup most of the tax dollars lost to improper payments. The overall government average is 89 percent, according to official estimates.

But the recovery data is inconsistent across the country. At the Department of Defense, for example, $1.8 billion in improper payments to contractors was identified and 80 percent, or $1.4 billion was recovered.

At the Department of Transportation, however, the recovery percentage was only 33 percent. For the Department of Homeland Security, the recovery rate is 44 percent.

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