Topics: Obamacare

Examiner Editorial: Medicare payments to dead people portends Obamacare fraud

Editorial,Obamacare,Health and Human Services,Medicare and Medicaid,Inspectors General,Waste and Fraud,Tom Coburn

Medicare isn't supposed to provide death benefits but it does. Here’s how it works: You die and then benefits continue to be paid to you. It is a pretty comprehensive program. Lots of doctors keep getting payments after they die as well. These are not, it should be noted, “official” Medicare programs. In fact, they are improper payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The center is aware of the problem but continues to send out the payments anyway. According to reports by the agency’s inspector general, Medicare paid $23 million to deceased beneficiaries in 2011. Between 2009 and 2011, it paid another $25 million to doctors who had passed away. Over the same period, the CMS paid $29 million in prescription drug benefits to “unlawfully present beneficiaries”— that is, illegal immigrants.

"Despite being notified of this problem five years ago, the administration continues to pay dead doctors."

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, himself a doctor as well as one of Congress's most intrepid budget hawks, requested the reports. He's been pushing the White House to do something about these payments since 2009 to little avail. “[D]espite being notified of this problem five years ago, the administration continues to pay dead doctors,” Coburn said. “Every individual wrongfully awarded benefits, be it the deceased or undocumented, diverts scarce resources away from those in need.”

That the administration has little interest in rooting out this fraud is obvious enough. To the liberal mind, entitlements should continually grow larger. Anything that undermines this drive – such as, eliminating fraud – is an unwelcome distraction. While sending payments to dead patients and doctors can arguably be attributed to bureaucratic errors, sending checks to illegal immigrants is clear evidence of fraud. These payments directly violate a CMS directive. A footnote in one of the reports said the improper recipients were people who overstayed their visas. Apparently, running a simple computer check on the recipients’ immigration status is beyond the CMS.

The $74 million in improper payments is is less than one percent of what Medicare pays out in a year. But it is a worrisome portent of what awaits America in the world of Obamacare. If a relatively well-run program like Medicare cannot stop cutting checks to dead people after five years of warnings, how much fraud and waste will be seen when millions of people are forced onto the health-care exchanges?

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