Medicare fraud busters unveil command center

BALTIMORE — Medicare‘s war on fraud is going high-tech with the opening of a $3.6 million command center that features a giant screen and the latest computer and communications gear. That’s raising expectations, as well as some misgivings.

The carpeting stills smells new at the facility, which went live a week ago in a nondescript commercial office park on Baltimore’s outskirts. A couple dozen computer workstations are arrayed in concentric semicircles in front of a giant screen that can display data and photos, and also enable face-to-face communication with investigators around the country. Medicare fraud is estimated to cost more than $60 billion annually, and for years the government has been losing a game of “pay and chase,” trying to recoup losses after scam artists have already cashed in.

Fraud czar Peter Budetti told reporters on a tour this week that the command center could be a turning point. It brings together in real time the geeks running Medicare’s new computerized fraud detection system with gumshoes deployed around the country. Imagine a kind of NCIS-Medicare, except Budetti says it’s not make-believe.

“This is not an ivory-tower exercise,” Budetti said. “It is very much a real-world one.”

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