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Watchdog warns of fraud in gov't push for electronic medical records

The federal government has failed to put safeguards in place to prevent fraud from occurring in a multi-billion dollar program to encourage medical providers to use electronic health records, according to a new report by watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The Obama administration has spent more than $22 million in incentive payments to hospitals and doctors to install electronic medical records systems but has "directed less attention to addressing potential fraud and abuse vulnerabilities" in the program, the report said.

The administration's push to transition medical providers away from paper patient charts is intended to reduce health care costs and improve care. Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that the ObamaCare-mandated change is too fast for security measures to keep pace.

Wednesday's report found that some contractors for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were unable to determine whether a provider had inserted false or irrelevant documentation that would make it easier to inflate costs, resulting in overbilling.  

The report by the HHS inspector general also warned that "inappropriate copy-pasting could facilitate attempts to inflate claims and duplicate or create fraudulent claims" and recommended that CMS develop guidelines for the use of copying and pasting in electronic health records.

A group of Republican lawmakers voiced concerns of their own Wednesday about the lack of adequate oversight of for the electronic health record conversion program and called on the Obama administration to implement changes to better safeguard patients' personal information. 

“It’s unfortunate that another report is being released citing pitfalls in the implementation of electronic health records,” Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the senior Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement. “Even more unfortunate is the fact that my colleagues and I have been pointing out these problematic concerns to the administration for over a year and as this report details little to no response has occurred."

CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a written response to the report that the agency "is committed to preventing fraud, waste, and abuse" in the electronic health records program and will continue to work with contractors "to identify best practices for detecting fraud."

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