In fiscal year 2018, $137 billion was paid “improperly” by the federal government, according to a recent report. That number sums all the improper payments by what the government calls high-priority programs. They are programs with improper-payments estimates exceeding $2 billion annually.
If it makes your head spin, it should.
Always the optimist, I have tried hard to find some good news in this year’s number. I have been tracking such improper payments for a while, and I am happy to report that, while they grew dramatically between their FY2013 level ($106 billion) and FY2015 ($137 billion), they haven’t gone up since.
Now that’s where the good news stops, I am afraid. In 2015, the $137 billion was spread over 15 programs. The $137 billion in improper payments in 2018 is spread over 12 programs. In other words, each program’s improper payments have grown.
Now, not all of these improper payments are the result of fraudulent activities. Some of them, which include overpayments as well as underpayments, might result from clerical error, from an innocent failure to confirm that a recipient is eligible to receive the amount of money that is disbursed, or from any violation of federal guidelines or rules.
While that may not sound as bad, these are still large-scale mistakes, errors that Uncle Sam continues making year after year in all impunity.
Interestingly, although not surprisingly, most of the government’s “high-error programs” are social welfare programs, which are fairly well-known for having low administrative costs in part because of poor oversight. The highest dollar amount of improper payments comes fromMedicaid. The program registered $36.2 billion in improper payments, or almost 10 percent of the $370 billion paid out to beneficiaries in 2018 in total. Second-highest is Medicare’s fee-for-serviceprogram, with improper payments totaling $31.8 billion (or 8.12 percent of that program’s total payments). If you add the $15.6 billion in improper payments under Medicare Advantage (Part C)to the other two health care programs, you get 60 percent of all improper payments on the list.