IN THE NEWS: Our Views: Rivers’ support of False Claims Act appreciated

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Sometimes, it seems as though the state government — split between Republicans and Democrats — is incapable of bringing about real change, when it comes to basic, common sense legislation that protects taxpayer money.

That was the case during the 2015 legislative session when lawmakers were unable to renew a bill reauthorizing the Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act, a measure that makes so much sense it was almost nauseating to see it go unsigned into law.

The legislation allows the state Attorney General’s office to combat Medicaid provider fraud. It’s often seen when medical providers attempt to profit off the state’s Medicaid program by knowling providing unnecessary tests or procedures or charging for services that were never provided.

Across the state, such fraud has been seen in hospitals, school districts and private companies. What all the cases have in common is the rampant misuse of taxpayer money.

The Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act, championed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, authorizes the office to bring civil cases against the fraudulent providers.

According to Ferguson: “Since 2012, the Attorney General’s Office has recovered $6.1 million that it otherwise would not have been able to without its authority under the FCA. If the FCA had not been renewed, Washington could have lost significant federal dollars. The federal government provides a $3-to-$1 match for all state moneys provided to the AGO to enforce the False Claims Act. The state would have also lost its full partnership with the National Medicaid Fraud Control Units, reducing its ability to be fully represented in large, national Medicaid fraud cases. Whistleblower protections provided by the FCA would have also disappeared.”

Fortunately, lawmakers came together to pass the legislation at the close of the recent session, which stretched 20 days passed the original deadline.

And we have a local legislator to thank.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, sponsored the bill signed into law two weeks ago by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“This legislation represents the kind of common-sense measures that taxpayers wish lawmakers would champion more often,” said Rivers. “I am honored to be part of ensuring that this cost-savings and consumer-protection act remains strong.”

Senate Bill 6156 did a great deal more than simply reauthorize the act.

It improved it.

The legislation removes the sunset provision for the majority of the Fraud Claims Act, giving the Attorney General’s office more breathing room to launch investigations rather than lobby lawmakers to give them the tools to do so.

Without the support of Rivers and other sponsors, the False Claims Act would have expired at the end of June.

That would have been devastating to the integrity of the Medicaid reimbursement program in our state. Since 2012, when the act became law, “civil fraud recoveries have increased 28 percent, and the state has recovered $3 for every $1 invested in enforcement under the act,” according to Ferguson.

“I am committed to protecting taxpayers from fraud and abuse,” Ferguson said. “Thanks to action by the Governor and the Legislature, my Medicaid Fraud Control Unit can continue recovering stolen dollars lost to fraud, deterring misuse of government funds, and holding fraudsters accountable.”

Rivers is right.

The legislation is a common sense measure of the type residents wish to see much more often.

We’re thankful for Rivers leadership on this issue, and we look forward to seeing misappropriated Medicaid funds returned to the state coffers where they belong.

The original article, published April 13, 2016, can be viewed here.