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Could the Internet Help or Hurt Healthcare Fraud?



The Internet has introduced us to many great and not-so-great things. However, this two-faced animal could possibly be contributing to the increase in healthcare fraud and abuse.

According to Input, a market research firm, the US lost $98 billion to waste, fraud, and abuse in 2009—a 38% increase from 2008. The healthcare industry led the way in the total amount of waste. Input also found that $24 billion of the total loss came from Medicare with an additional $18 million from Medicaid.

This increase in waste and fraud reflects the increase in federal funding. President Obama recently announced in the 2011 budget there would be $1.7 billion of federal funds dedicated to the Department of Health and Human Services to help cut down on wasteful spending and fraud.

A good place to start is the Internet. Currently, individuals or shady “government contractors” are finding it easy to defraud the government online. Those applying for federal aid rarely need to visit government offices. “It becomes easier to, say, collect unemployment when you shouldn’t,” says Angie Petty, senior research analyst at Input, simply because a few forms can be filled out online, and verifying that data can be extremely difficult. It has become increasingly difficult for the US to keep up with fraud and waste control as more and more people are using the Internet to apply for federal funding.

“The difference between the Internet and previously available means is that it’s very expensive to send out regular mail, but the cost of using the Internet rises very little as the amount of information rises. You can provide a tremendous amount of information at little or no cost.”

In most cases the US government is forced to catch up on illegally used funds only after they have left government accounts. Petty feels that the Internet could be used as a tool to stop the money from leaving in the first place. The Government could use the Internet to monitor activity as well as give whistleblowers a website to bring potential fraud to their attention. However, if it was that easy the government would already have such things in place. Petty also points out that the Internet is contributing to the problem of waste and abuse of federal funds.

We stand at a crossroads of good and bad on the Internet—the Internet could be used to significantly cut back on waste and fraud, but if not changed could continue to contribute to it as it has in recent years.




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