One of the funny things about the debate over health insurance reform has been watching people who have for years clamored for cutting waste from Medicare contort themselves trying to find ways to oppose our efforts to do exactly that. As the President noted in his Address to a Joint Session of Congress
Now, these steps will ensure that you – America's seniors – get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for prescription drugs. (Applause.) That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut, especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past and just this year supported a budget that would essentially have turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will not happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare. (Applause.)
Last spring, most Republicans voted in favor of a budget proposal that would end Medicare in its current form for people under 55, offering vouchers instead to pay for private health care accounts.
A more recent attack
has come from Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, directed at the Director of our Health Reform Office Nancy-Ann DeParle. He leads off his attack citing various problems that various companies she’s been associated with have had, declaring that "We can thank Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Communication for this information." Well, Moore shouldn't be too thankful if his goal was smearing DeParle – here's what the report
actually says about DeParle's direct involvement:
"There is no reason to think that DeParle was directly involved in any of the actions that led to the investigations and sanctions. DeParle was a member of the board of directors of these companies, not the chief executive officer managing day-to-day operations. It is rare for directors to be held legally accountable for illegal dealings by management."
Moore also claims that when DeParle ran Medicare during the 1990's, she did nothing to halt the waste and abuse that President Obama is fighting against now: "By the end of the Clinton administration, Medicare fraud was estimated by the U.S. General Accounting Office to costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. This happened on Ms. DeParle's watch. It makes one wonder how this czarina is going to root out waste when so much of it piled up the last time she was in charge."
Unfortunately for Mr. Moore's argument, the reality is quite the contrary – DeParle helped cut errors and waste in half and saved taxpayers billions during her tenure. Again, the very report that Moore so graciously thanks includes this:
The investigations and lawsuits are at odds with DeParle's reputation in Washington as a progressive, highly respected health policy analyst. During the late 1990s, when she ran Medicare, she pushed hard to raise medical quality standards and to clamp down on fraud and waste in the massive federal health plan for the elderly.
"In my experience, she's the one administrator who really was tuned into the fraud issue," said William J. Mahon, a former director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. "She distinguished herself in putting fraud on the agenda."
A few more examples:
DeParle Headed Aggressive Campaign To Fight Medicare Fraud Cut Improper Payment Rate In Half In Just Two Years. "Medicare's aggressive campaign to fight fraud and overbilling has cut the improper payment rate in half in just two years, but the giant health program for the elderly still paid health care providers $ 12.6 billion last year for services that cost too much or were never provided, federal auditors said Tuesday. In 1996, when the government began systematically auditing a sample of claims by doctors, hospitals and other agencies, its erroneous payment rate was estimated at 14%...'We have turned the corner and we are heading in the right direction,' said Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who heads the Health Care Financing Administration, which runs Medicare. She pledged to 'continue the aggressive effort to fight waste, fraud and abuse.'" [L.A. Times, 2/10/99]
Medicare’s Error Rate Had Fallen From 14% To 6.8% By Final Year Of Clinton Administration. "The US Department of Health and Human Services said on Friday that the rate of improper Medicare payments was stable over the past 2 years. HHS said the projected percentage rate for 2002 was about 6.3%, the same figure reported for 2001 and a significant decrease from the 13.8% rate estimated in 1996, when the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) began calculating the number. In 2000, the error rate was about 6.8%." [Reuters, 1/24/03]
Medicare Lost $23.2 Billion To Fraud, Abuse And Errors In 1996. "In all, government auditors told Congress that 14 cents of every dollar spent last year by Medicare, the nation's health care program for the elderly, was lost to such instances of fraud, abuse, or simple error. That amounted to $ 23.2 billion of the $ 168.6 billion Medicare paid last year to hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other health care providers." [AP, 7/18/97]
Medicare Lost $11.9 Billion To Fraud, Abuse And Errors In 2000. "Medicare lost an estimated $11.9 billion to waste, fraud and mistakes last year, half of what was lost five years ago from improper payments to doctors and hospitals, auditors said Tuesday. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson praised efforts to reduce the improper payments, which could range from innocent mistakes to outright fraud and abuse." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/7/01]
DeParle Convened HCFA’s First Conference on Combating Medicare Fraud and Abuse. "One of the first things Nancy-Ann Min DeParle did after taking over as head of the federal agency that administers Medicare was to visit South Florida with Sen. Bob Graham. Graham had promised DeParle, administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, that shewould be able to witness Medicare fraud first-hand. He was right. During the trip in January, Graham and DeParle stopped in clinics where patients were being seen - and Medicare was being billed - but no licensed doctors were on site. They visited community mental health care programs where bingo games were being charged to Medicare as therapy. DeParle, 41, returned to Washington pledging to make the fight against Medicare fraud, estimated at $ 23-billion each year, her top priority. This month, DeParle sponsored a first for HCFA - a meeting of about 300 health care providers, private insurers, prosecutors and public officials on combating fraud and abuse." [St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/98]
One would expect somebody who claims to be a principled conservative, who has talked for years about eliminating waste and abuse in the system, to praise DeParle's record and to embrace President Obama's attempt to do what Moore and other conservatives have called for year after year. But perhaps principles are of less importance than partisan hit pieces to some.