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It Just Doesn’t Add Up

This is a world where we toss around big numbers lightly: trillion dollar deficits, multi-billion dollar companies, billion-dollar tax cuts. It’s difficult to fathom exactly how enormous those numbers are.

I’ll try to describe those numbers another way. If you made $1 every second, you’d accumulate a million greenbacks in about 12 days. A billion would take slightly under 32 years. A trillion? Not in this lifetime, but maybe in 4,000.

With that perspective, it’s fair to say that $430 million is still a LOT of money.

It’s the amount of money 91 individuals, including personal physicians and nurses, have been charged with stealing from Medicare and Medicaid. In a joint effort investigation, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services made arrests in seven cities. It’s the second incident of its kind this year; a similar case in May totaled $452 million in fraud.

The federal government accuses those charged of committing fraud by billing Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary charges. These include prescriptions for patients who did not need or qualify for them, unnecessary ambulance transportation expenses, improper home caretaking and mental health charges, and kickbacks (including cigarettes) to patients at hospital-sponsored events.

Having a dad who is a doctor, I find this especially disconcerting. Few things are as fulfilling or worthwhile as a career in the medical field, which I regard as a lifetime of service. Physicians play a very important role in society, bearing massive responsibility and commanding great respect as our caretakers. Stories like these give the entire profession a bad name. It perpetrates the negative image that people today choose to become doctors primarily for the money, not out of a desire to help others. It is disgraceful to see such disregard and greed in medicine, and I hope that not a single charged doctor practices another day of medicine.

This scandal also comes at a time when the futures of Medicare and Medicaid are being fiercely debated. Both programs consume a large amount of federal funds, and both are at risk for insolvency in the near future if left unchanged. Waste and corruption as demonstrated in this incident contribute additional, and avoidable, costs to the already sky-high price of maintaining Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are also designed for the elderly and the economically disadvantaged, who are the people who suffer most directly from these actions. When you have something that’s guaranteed, as these federal programs are, it becomes easier for people to take advantage of them. Can we, or should we, maintain these programs if they can be manipulated so easily?

In the larger scheme, $420 million amounts to little more than a drop in the bucket. Realistically, fraud contributes a very small portion to the expenses of these programs. The financial repercussions of their actions are relatively small, but the actions of these swindlers, who got caught trying to smash open the cookie jar, demonstrate despicable character and avarice. Why would you act in such a way? It just doesn’t add up.

Written by Andy Li’13


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