Here we are, with the biggest Medicare fraud in history going -- so we are told -- and The New York Times devotes its front page today to a story about Medicare fraud carried out by organized Russian gangs in ... oh, guess where! ... New York City!
What can we do down here in Dallas to get respect?
The thesis of The Times piece is that these former Soviet Union people, conditioned to despise government by life under despotism, come over here and practice their wily arts, despising and defrauding our poor little innocent government.
I always remember the year the Soviet Union fell, 1991, because it was the same year The Dallas Times Herald went under. As a jilted former employee, I tried for the longest to come up with a theory linking the two catastrophes. I could have done it, but it would have been a lot of work, and I had to get some freelance stuff going that would pay.
The thing is, that was a time ago. Is Soviet culture really what's driving the fraud scene in America today? Seems like a reach.
Maybe it's Dallas Bible Belt culture. We have the bigger scam. I bet I could come up with a theory linking Medicare fraud with the right-wing Republican belief system. But that seems like heavy lifting too.
Wouldn't it be easier to link Medicare fraud with Medicare? And, of course, we're talking about Medicaid as well. That just seems like less of a reach.
In 1995, I wrote a book about a doctor's wife in Huntsville, Alabama, accused and convicted (wrongly, I believe) of hiring a hit man to kill her husband, an ophthalmologist. One of the things wrong with the cops' case against her was an accusation that she did it to collect on some chintzy insurance policy.
This guy -- alive, kicking and doing eyeball exams -- was a goldmine for her, and she was the one who had turned him into one. She had been a nurse working in his practice before she married him. She was a kind of autodidact genius student of federal medical insurance programs.
In one year she showed him how to jack his personal income up from six figures to seven by running his indigent patients through every conceivable procedure that Medicare or Medicaid would pay for.
And I never heard a whisper of suggestion that any of it was illegal. It was just money sitting there on the table. Why not pick it up?
Early in the Obama administration, there were reports that people in the White House were all reading a new book about FDR -- Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment, about FDR's Hundred Days at the launching of the New Deal. So, anyway, I read it, because I'm a hopeless Obamatoid. He's my Oprah.
One of the things in it I found most interesting was FDR's native distrust, as a moneyed blue-blood, of government spending programs. Based on both his own Oyster Bay aristocratic culture and his political experience, he assumed a handout program, however much good it might do, was an open invitation to scamsters.
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Therefore Roosevelt established one of the toughest anti-fraud mechanisms in the history of the presidency, and by all accounts and reports fraud was at an all-time low level during the years of the New Deal, when the federal government was engaged in some of the grandest spending programs in history to date.
Isn't that how it has to be done? We don't give up on government because people cheat government. We catch the cheaters and put them in the pen.
Don't we have to simply assume that big spending programs will attract all kinds of scamsters, from those people who do that cool knee-dancing with the bear-fur hats to people in cowboy boots with big old bling crosses around their necks?
In order to do our best by people, we need to assume the worst. And then we need to go out there and catch the bastards red-handed. Or cowboy-handed as the case may be. Right?