President Obama Calls for New Program to Fight Medicare and Medicaid Fraud

BY Lea Winerman  March 10, 2010 at 4:42 PM EST

Updated 7:09 p.m.

President Obama continued to make his case for health care reform to the public Wednesday, at a speech in suburban St. Louis. The president emphasized a new plan to combat Medicare and Medicaid fraud, an idea that garnered bipartisan support at the his health care reform summit last month.

The president said that health care waste and fraud cost taxpayers almost $100 billion last year. He said that if there was a “Department of Improper Payments” then it would be “one of the largest agencies in the government.”

The new proposal would expand the use of a pilot program that uses private auditors to root out fraud and waste, and incentivizes the auditors by paying them based on the amount of fraud they find.

“The fact is, Washington is a place where tax dollars are often treated like Monopoly money, bartered and traded, divvied up among lobbyists and special interests. And it has been a place where waste – even billions of dollars in waste – is accepted as the price of doing business,” the president said in a statement.

Read the full White House statement here.

The speech is part of a public relations blitz by the president aimed at pushing health care reform over the finish line. At a Monday speech in Glenside, Pa., he went on the offensive against insurers, blasting recent insurance rate hikes and calling them a reason for reform.

Tonight on the NewsHour, Richard Kirsch of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now, and Mike Tuffin, of the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, debate the merits of the president’s argument.