Any expansion beyond seven cities, however needed, would happen only if Congress were to approve the president's budget, according to Tony West, assistant attorney general for the civil division in the Justice Department. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 26 that no expansion of the high-profile task forces could occur without the additional funding Obama sought and he repeated the claim to a reporter afterward.
But it turns out that the task forces, also known as strike forces, are already operating in nine cities. That came to light in mid-February when HHS and Justice officials made the high-profile announcement that the task forces had recently arrested 111 healthcare fraud suspects in the nine cities in which the strike forces were operating.
So what happened?
The funding for the two additional task forces was provided through the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program, which was created by the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act law and expanded through last year's healthcare overhaul. The money collected through that program can be funneled to fund the task forces and as well as other activities.
And all 20 task forces could launch any time—even this year—through the same funding source and without any new increase sought by the White House, according to a spokeswoman.
Erin Bliss Lemire, director of external affairs for HHS' inspector general, acknowledged all 20 task forces hypothetically could launch any time with the same funding source and without the increase sought by the White House. But, she said, “Any resources going to add strike forces are taken from other efforts."