Politicians wonder why Americans are so cynical about government and politics. It's because they keep providing us with fresh examples of how crass and hypocritical they can be.
No, we're not talking about the vicious temperament of the current presidential campaign. An equally distasteful example involves the Kassebaum-Kennedy insurance reform legislation signed last month. The signing ceremony on the White House south lawn featured broad smiles all around-at least in part because the legislation was supposed to add millions of dollars to federal anti-fraud efforts.
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), one of the bill's sponsors, said the new funding would allow federal officials to take "strong action" against fraud and abuse.
The decision to adopt Kassebaum-Kennedy was strengthened because the measure earmarked more than $100 million for federal anti-fraud efforts in fiscal 1997 and nearly $120 million in fiscal 1988. Nearly $70 million of the new money was to go directly to HHS' inspector general's office, the government's chief healthcare fraud investigative arm.
Politicians talk a good game about fighting fraud. Sen. William Frist (R-Tenn.) spoke at length on the subject at the Republican National Convention in San Diego this summer. The issue has been equally popular on the Democratic side, led by the insurance reform bill's other sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
By one estimate, one of every five dollars spent on healthcare is fraudulent or questionable. So now that Congress gets an opportunity to put the squeeze on an admitted problem, it's instead moving to use the Kassebaum-Kennedy money as the inspector general's sole funding source and divert the fraud money to pay for other projects. What a sham. When the time comes to put their money where their rhetoric is, politicians who could have made a difference reneged on their pledge. The Washington politicians are the ones guilty of fraud.