Tuesday, August 12, 2008

US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen rejects Medicare fraud remedy

The Miami Herald is outdoing itself lately with investigations. As the staff shrinks, will the good work still have a chance to continue? The answer will have telling effect on our civic culture, and on the jail population. Fewer crooks will be incarcerated if the Herald isn’t able to keep on exposing fraud.

In fact, fraud seems to be a major industry in South Florida. Look at two of our most important economic sectors:

· Real estate. Mortgage fraud on all sides has been exposed in the Herald as a reason for the steep rise of home prices a few years ago and now the drop. This was accomplished by our neighbors the bankers, mortgage brokers, borrowers and lenders. Working together and individually to get rich like good Americans or just to be housed, they came close to wrecking the whole national economy. Rampant was the word the Herald used to characterize the level of mortgage fraud.

· Health care. Now the Herald has chronicled billions of dollars defrauded from Medicare – that’s from our pockets, fellow citizens – by our neighbors, the fraudsters. This was billions annually in South Florida, not the whole country. An incredible haul. Perhaps it explains the big houses and fancy yachts in our splendid part of the land.

And what is the remedy? Congress! At least in the case of Medicare fraud. So it says on the front page of Monday’s Herald. Headline: Fraud Remedy Denied.

Headlines often are written in the passive voice without full verb forms. Let’s do a little exercise here and put this in the active voice. Congress Denied Fraud Remedy.

As the Herald’s Jay Weaver reported exhaustively, the Medicare agency tried repeatedly for more money to combat fraud, and Congress always throttled the attempt. Weaver shows fine enterprise in interviewing two local members of Congress to delve into the reasons.

Interestingly, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez is on the good side (first-termer behavior?) of this issue, and is backing legislation to stop fraud. He says $1 invested in anti-fraud measures will yield $10 in fraud-reduction, the Herald reports.

Then Weaver turns to my congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, FL-18, in the U.S. House since 1989, and she speaks out of both sides of her Republican mouth. Medicare needs help to fight fraud, but it’s risky for lawmakers to give money to an agency recognized for incompetence, she says:

“If you increase the money for oversight, then it looks like you’re fattening up the bureaucracy, even when it’s really for oversight and fighting fraud,” she said. “It’s a difficult choice.”

She then chose according to the ideology of small-government-is-best, and voted against it.

Perhaps it’s not ideology. Campaign donations could be another motivation. And thanks to research from the Florida Democratic Party, we have some detail on Ros-Lehtinen’s connection to Medicare fraud via past donations for her re-election.

From an FDP news release last week:

In 1998, the largest home health care provider in South Florida was charged with bilking Medicare for more than $45 million in fake services. The company's founder had been a donor to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's campaign for re-election to Congress.

“Congress did have the opportunity to fight back against Medicare fraud before it reached crisis proportions, but Ros-Lehtinen voted against allowing Congress to pursue its Constitutionally-mandated oversight role. In 1995, she voted for the so-called Medicare Preservation Act (HR 2421, Roll Call 731, 1995). The Act that Ros-Lehtinen voted for "crippled the efforts of law enforcement agencies to control health-care fraud abuse in the Medicare program," according to the then-inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Even then, Ros-Lehtinen voted with the Republican Party line and against the best interest of the people of her district, a pattern that continues almost 15 years later.”

The FDP release reports that Ros-Lehtinen has banked $180,000 from Big Pharma and HMOs.

The charge:

“Ros-Lehtinen is either complicit or easily bamboozled, but any way you cut it she has no business representing South Florida in the United States Congress,” said Eric Jotkoff, FDP spokesman.


Back to the remedy for Congress: Annette Taddeo is a brilliant businesswoman, passionate Democrat, unsullied by Big Pharma donations, and she’s running a strong challenge to Ros-Lehtinen. Now is the time to pop over to annette2008.com and give some honest money to her campaign.

And don’t forget Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez, who need your support to take out Mario (FL-25) and Lincoln (FL-21) Diaz-Balart (Lincoln declined to be interviewed for the Herald takeout), our two other rubber-stamps in Congress.

No comments: