THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN MEDICARE FRAUD ANNOUNCEMENT
12:32 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Governor Chiles. And thank you, Secretary Shalala. Ladies and gentlemen, I also want to thank the representatives of the AARP who are here, and others who have been very interested in this program.
As all of you know, and as I have given further evidence of here today, I was recently reminded the hard way that our doctors and medical care are the best in the world. That is certainly true, I can vouch, for the doctors and nurses in the hospital in Florida that cared for me when I was recently injured. I've worked hard to give all America's families access to quality health care, and as Governor Chiles and the Secretary have made clear, a critical part of that mission has to be to make sure that our system is free of fraud.
Over the past four years we have made real progress in our efforts to expand access to health care. Last year we made it possible for people to move from job to job without fear of losing their health insurance. Our balanced budget plan will provide health care coverage for up to 5 million of the 10 million children who don't have it. It preserves and strengthens the Medicare system, ensuring the life of the Medicare trust fund for another decade.
Today we are taking the next steps to end the waste, fraud and abuse in health care that threatens our ability to provide high-quality and affordable health care for America's citizens. Medicare fraud costs billions of dollars every year. It amounts to a fraud tax that falls on all of our taxpayers, but most heavily upon our senior citizens. Because of fraud they have to pay higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs that otherwise they would not have to pay.
Medicare and Medicaid are more than just programs; they are the way we do honor to our parents, the way we strengthen our families, the way we care for our poorest and most vulnerable children. We cannot tolerate fraud that robs taxpayers even as it harms those of us to whom we owe a great duty.
The law enforcement partnership described by Governor Chiles and Secretary Shalala has made real strides in the fight against health care fraud. Over the past four years we have assigned more Justice Department prosecutors and more FBI agents to fight health care fraud than ever before. We've won a record number of convictions and settlements in fraud cases. All told, since 1992, the number of health care fraud convictions has increased by 241 percent. Operation Restore Trust, which Secretary Shalala described, has the potential to save $10 for every dollar invested in it.
All of these efforts together have helped us save over $20 billion in health care claims. Money that would have been wasted has gone instead to help provide quality health care and peace of mind for America's families.
Today, I am pleased to announce that I will send to Congress legislation to continue and toughen our crackdown on fraud and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. First, the best way to prevent fraud is to keep dishonest doctors and other scam artists out of the Medicare system in the first place. Under this bill, a provider or supplier who's been convicted of fraud or another felony could be barred from joining the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
For example, in Florida, our investigators found a medical equipment supplier previously convicted of securities fraud, and they found that supplier was bilking the Medicare program. He was ordered to pay $32 million in restitution, and he's back in jail serving a nine-year sentence. But people like this should not be allowed to join Medicare in the first place. With this legislation, it's less likely that they will be able to do that.
Second, our reform would improve safeguards against fraud by requiring anyone who wants to do business with Medicare to register with the government and give us their Social Security number. This will help to track and stop fraudsters who try to repeat their crimes setting up shop under phony names with dummy corporations or in new states.
Third, the legislation will toughen sanctions so that those who cheat pay the price. The government will have a stronger hand in imposing larger and newer civil monetary fines.
And finally, it will close loopholes in the law that today let Medicare and Medicaid providers pocket overpayments from the government simply by declaring bankruptcy. Under this bill, Medicare providers will no longer be able to avoid accountability by declaring bankruptcy.
These steps are important. They will save the government and the American people a great deal of money. They will also buy something that money cannot alone buy: a greater sense of security and peace of mind for our parents, our most vulnerable families and children. We can and will preserve Medicare. We can and will make the Medicaid system work better and serve more children. The steps we take today will protect and strengthen those systems that mean so much to our families and to our future. And thank you all for your contributions to the effort. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.
And let me just say one other thing. This is my first public statement, I think, since coming back from Helsinki. We had a terrific meeting there. It was good for the United States, good for the people of Russia. And again, I'd like to thank my medical team for making it possible for me to make the trip so soon after my surgery. But it went fine and it was a remarkable thing -- not only the progress we made on NATO, but especially on our commitment to slash the nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia by 80 percent from their Cold War highs within decades. So I'm very excited about it, it was a good meeting and I'm glad to be back.
Q Mr. President, what do you think about your predecessor's venture into skydiving? (Laughter.) President Bush is supposed to be parachuting even as we speak. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I am mightily impressed. (Laughter.) And I wish him well. I'm excited. I can't wait to see him get down and give us the story. (Laughter.)
Q Are you going to have to postpone your Mexico trip because of your injury?
THE PRESIDENT: What we have decided to do -- and I think we've announced it -- we will announce it today -- is to postpone the Mexico trip for about a month and put it where I was going to do my full Latin American trip to the other countries -- to Central America, to South America and the Caribbean. And what we're going to do is to make the trip to Mexico, to Costa Rica and to Barbados, to do Central America and the Caribbean and Mexico during that time frame. And then later in the year we're going to go to South America and do that trip, when I'm somewhat more mobile, because, among other things, we're going to Argentina and Brazil; they're big countries, there's going to be a lot of moving around and I need a little more physical mobility. Besides, I'm hoping to ride horses and do some other things and I'm not quite ready for that, as you can see.
Q Mr. President, the cornerstone of the Florida program is the surety bond and the on-site inspections, both of which are missing from your proposal. Why is that?
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to comment on that?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes. The on-site inspection is in it. On the surety bond, it's one of the things that we have the authority under our regulatory authority, and we'll have a later announcement on that.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all.
END 12:40 P.M. EST