The U.S. House passed a bill with bipartisan support yesterday that would give the Dept. of Health and Human Services more power in prosecuting corporations that commit Medicare or Medicaid fraud.
The Strengthening Medicare Anti-Fraud Measures Act, introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) would give the HHS Office of the Inspector General the power to exclude the parent companies of subsidiaries who commit Medicare fraud from participating in the federal benefits program. The ban could also hold for executives who commit fraud, even if their conviction or guilty plea takes place after a departure from their companies.
Medicare is the biggest healthcare payer in the country. Barring its payments to any company would significantly reduce its ability to participate in the healthcare industry.
Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also pushed for the bill.
"Our seniors depend on Medicare services, and I won’t stand to see those services eroded by thieves who cheat the system," Klein said in prepared remarks released after the House vote.
The federal government has been ramping up its Medicare fraud prosecution in recent years. The Dept. of Justice collected $1.6 billion from busts of Medicare and Medicaid fraud rings, off-label marketing and illegal promotion of drugs and devices in fiscal year 2009. In June, HHS and the DOJ reached out to states attorneys general for help in cracking down on Medicare fraud; a month later the two agencies announced a takedown of 94 individuals charged with $251 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare. Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed new fraud prevention regulations that would require the screening of healthcare providers based on their level of risk.