President Obama and other advocates of sweeping health care reform contend that much of its cost can be covered by "savings" from the elimination of Medicare waste and fraud. But considering the colossal scale of those losses, why should the taxpaying public imagine that a massive new federal health care entitlement wouldn't be ripe for similar inefficiency -- and similar corruption?
A prominent television network news operation reported Sunday night that Medicare "provides a rich and steady income stream for criminals who are constantly finding new ways to steal a sizable chunk of the half trillion dollars that are paid out each year" in the system's benefits. The story cited up to $60 billion a year in Medicare fraud as raising "some troubling questions about our government's ability to manage a medical bureaucracy."
That wasn't another Fox News scoop undermining an Obama administration initiative. That was an instructive exclusive from CBS' "60 Minutes," featuring expert insights from Miami-based FBI Special Agent Brian Waterman, who told correspondent Steve Kroft:
"There's a health care fraud industry where people do nothing but recruit patients, get patient lists, find doctors, look on the Internet, find different scams. There are entire groups and entire organizations of people that are dedicated to nothing but committing fraud, finding a better way to steal from Medicare."
Though the specifics of those evolving "better ways" vary widely, they generally boil down to falsifying documentation that routinely -- and far too easily -- fools government bureaucrats.
And as The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt points out in his column on this page, Congress has a lousy track record in controlling Medicare costs.
Florida, as a haven for retirees, is a predictable hotbed for Medicare schemes involving insurance companies, patients, doctors, hospitals and scam artists who have learned how to game the system for big bucks. But the Sunshine State holds no monopoly on this dark con.
Mr. Kroft reported that the City of Angels Medical Center in Los Angeles "recruited homeless people off the street to fill their empty beds, offering them cash and drugs plus clean sheets and three square meals a day, while billing Medicare tens of millions of dollars for their stay."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told "60 Minutes" that Medicare is "a major fraud area" -- and said the Justice Department is upgrading its efforts to clean it up.
Fine. The sooner, the better. We shouldn't have to wait for an overall health care overhaul to crack down on Medicare fraud.
But keep this incredibly expensive crime wave in mind when pondering repeated cries of "Medicare for all" on behalf of an allegedly cost-cutting "public option" for government medical insurance.