WASHINGTON (AP) _ Money earmarked for health care fraud investigations may be going to the fight against terrorism and other uses, congressional investigators said in a report Monday on the FBI.
The FBI says that it has put all the money, $114 million a year, into investigations of fraud in the Medicare, Medicaid and other government health care programs. But the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative agency, said that assertion can't be verified because the ``FBI did not have a system in place to capture its overall health care fraud investigation costs.''
The GAO undertook its review at the request of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, after the Justice Department notified Congress that the FBI had shifted agents to counterterrorism matters following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Justice inspector general has previously reported that 321 agents were moved from white-collar crime investigations, especially health care fraud, to counterterrorism cases after the Sept. 11 attacks.
``It's inexcusable that the government cannot account for millions of dollars set aside to fight health care fraud. Health care fraud is a big challenge, and big money is at stake,'' said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The report said the FBI needs better controls on how it is using the money, which is transferred each year from the Medicare trust fund. Improper Medicare payments total nearly $20 billion a year, a number that is expected to rise when Medicare's prescription drug insurance program begins next year.
The FBI agreed with the GAO recommendations, even as it defended the shift in focus.
The terror attacks ``demanded an instant 100 percent commitment from the FBI towards counterterrorism,'' FBI chief financial officer Joseph L. Ford said in a response that was incorporated in the GAO report.
Still, Ford said the bureau did not ignore its other duties. He pointed to the $631 million payment to the government from HCA, the nation's largest profit-seeking hospital chain, in 2003 to resolve claims of fraud and kickbacks to doctors.