Officials: State making progress with Medicaid fraud - FOX 13 News

Officials: State making progress with Medicaid fraud

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TALLAHASSEE (FOX 13) -

Watchdogs say Medicaid fraud in Florida has been growing out of control, but state leaders say we're making strides in fighting it. 

Two years ago, when Attorney General Pam Bondi visited her fraud control unit in South Florida, she was surprised to see positions had gone unfilled. Since 2007, the budget had been cut, and her inspector, Jim Varnado, discovered there was no clear chain of command.

Bondi promoted Varnado to run the unit, and he has filled most of those vacant positions.

"We still have a ways to go, but we've made great progress," said Varnado.

But consumer groups like Public Citizen say Florida still lags the nation in combatting fraud specifically committed by the drug industry.

"Florida is near the bottom of the list," said Public Citizen analyst Sammy Almashat. "It's clear that Florida is not doing what these other states have done." 

Watchdog groups like the D.C.-based Taxpayers Against Fraud say other states have done a better job of working with private whistleblowers – like a company in Key West called Ven-a-Care.

Patrick Burns with Taxpayers Against Fraud says he knows the owners.

"These are the best of us. These are people you want your kids to marry," said Burns.

Narnado said Florida has worked with Ven-a-Care and other private whistleblowers to recover state money.

"Whistleblowers are often times industry insiders - those who work in the system, who have access to information; it's very difficult, if not impossible, for we outsiders (the investigators) to have access to," said Varnado.

Varnado said the Medicaid fraud control unit no longer has a funding problem, and that Florida is working more with industry whistleblowers and private citizens who suspect they're being overbilled.

Citizens can report complaints by calling a state hotline 1-866-9-NoScam.

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