Issa challenges Department of Health and Human services on Inspector General recommendations

Mike Riggs Contributor
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In a letter to sent today to DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Rep. Darrell Issa alleged that the Department of Health and Human Services is unprepared for the demands of Democrats’ impending health-care bill, and bases that supposition on the department’s performance during the last year.

“A list of unimplemented recommendations recently released by your department’s inspector general have raised troubling questions about your department’s lack of focus on addressing waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds,” Issa wrote.

The list in reference is the annual Compendium of Unimplemented Office of Inspector General Recommendations, released by DHHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson. According to Issa’s letter, “The list contains 86 significant outstanding recommendations that if implemented,” could result in “12.2 billion in savings … with over $8.7 billion coming from Medicare and Medicaid ‘Priority Recommendations’ alone.”

While 33 of the recommendations are new, 53 of the recommendations are from Obama’s first year in office.

“The previous year’s Compendium of Unimplemented Office of Inspector General Recommendations (released May 2009), contained 63 such recommendations,” reads Issa’s letter. “Disturbingly, only 10 of these 63 significant IG recommendations from 2008 appear to have been either fully implemented by this administration during its first year in office or deemed no longer relevant by the IG – the other 53 appear again on this year’s report. I would remind you that under the Inspector General Act, federal agencies are supposed to complete final action on IG recommendations within one year.”

Issa’s letter then asks whether “the significant amount of time spent by senior officials” in the DHHS “lobbying for the president’s government health-care proposal raises important questions about whether these activities have distracted efforts to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.”

When contacted for comment, DHHS spokesman Nicholas Papas did not respond directly to Issa’s letter. “HHS is strongly committed to fighting waste, fraud and abuse and has launched an unprecedented effort, including $1.7 billion in our FY 2011 budget request to prevent and detect fraud in the health-care system,” Papas said. “Additionally, our administration has expanded its partnership with the HHS OIG and is working collaboratively on waste and fraud issues. We look forward to replying to Congressman Issa’s letter.”

Former DHHS Deputy Secretary Tevi Troy told the Daily Caller that the unimplemented recommendations are “a real problem” and a classic DHHS pitfall.

“You put more money into the system — we’re talking about a trillion dollars for this piece of legislation — and there’s likely to be more waste fraud and abuse,” Troy said. “You can diminish the amount of fraud,” he added, but “the problem is that the harder you look at waste, fraud, and abuse, the more controls you put in the system, and the slower money flows. The slower the money flows, the less willing doctors are to deal with the system, because they can’t get their payments in a timely manner.” Speed up the process, says Troy, and the doctors are happier, but  the DHHS is back to dealing with extensive waste, fraud and abuse.