A specter is still haunting American politics—the mythological specter of the welfare queen. Even after Clinton-era welfare reforms, and despite an ever-growing list of state restrictions on how public benefits can be used, Americans remain convinced that there’s waste, fraud, and abuse in the system, and that stronger controls would keep undeserving citizens from bilking the taxpayer. There is fraud, it’s true. But it’s not nearly large enough to make a dent in the federal budget, and it’s not freeloading welfare queens who are taking advantage of the system.
Nearly lost Thursday in the response to the atrocity in Charleston was Attorney Loretta Lynch’s announcement of arrests in what she called “the largest criminal healthcare fraud takedown in the history of the Department of Justice.” A total of 243 people were arrested and charged with stealing $712 million from Medicare. The arrests included 46 doctors, nurses, pharmacy owners, and other medical professionals. Facilities billed the federal government for therapy sessions where patients were actually just moved, never treated. In a particularly disturbing case, a Michigan doctor allegedly “prescribed unnecessary narcotics in exchange for patients' identification information, which was used to generate false billings. Patients then became deeply addicted to the prescription narcotics and were bound to the scheme as long as they wanted to keep their access to the drugs.”