In a renewed focus on fraud, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to support opening up the physician billing records for Medicare.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spoke today at his first hearing as the committee’s ranking Republican, a position he assumed this month. A longtime advocate for tougher anti-fraud laws, Grassley told two senior Justice Department officials that making billing records publicly available could help reduce the number of questionable payments to Medicare providers.
His interest follows a series in The Wall Street Journal that began in October, focusing on Medicare fraud. On Tuesday, the newspaper’s parent company filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida asking a judge to overturn a 1979 order that barred access to billing records.
“At least I think it’s time to revisit this issue and bring some transparency to this whole thing,” Grassley said, in his first question at today’s hearing.
Grassley asked two assistant attorneys general, Lanny Breuer and Tony West, whether they would consider re-examining the privacy protections that physicians and other providers have. Both officials were noncommittal.
“We would absolutely want to work with you on these kinds of issues and have the dialogue,” said Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division. He added, “We do have right now, because of your work and others, the resources that we need, and are able to get the information we need for prosecutions.”
West, head of the department’s civil division, said DOJ officials always “welcome the opportunity to talk about tools,” but he went no further. “We look forward to continuing that dialogue,” West said.