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Posted April 20, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Cuccinelli calls for focus on elder care

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The state has an elite group of people working to combat Medicaid fraud and elder abuse but more must be done as the population grows older and more people enter retirement, Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said Friday.

Cuccinelli spoke to a gathering of about 150 people at a senior wellness and crime prevention conference organized by Front Royal TRIAD.

Cuccinelli, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2013, touted his record in investigating and prosecuting Medicaid fraud and abuse.

He cited 50 percent growth in the size of the Medicaid fraud and elder abuse unit in his office since his election two years ago, the only parts of the attorney general's office that have expanded during that time, he said.

"It was the biggest section in my office when I arrived, and I increased it by 50 percent at a time, when I came, of budget cuts and everything else," he said.

Cuccinelli said the growing emphasis on crimes against the elderly is important "because we know how much Medicaid fraud is out there and baby boomers are just retiring and our senior population is growing.

"Statistics are what they are. If the rate of abuse and neglect continues as it is, the number of cases will rise in coming years, and we are prepared for that in our office," he said.

A study by the U.S. government's General Accounting Office has shown that 10 percent of the federal Medicaid budget is consumed by fraud. In Virginia, the state's Medicaid budget is $6 billion, which likely means $600 million is being lost to fraud, an amount Cuccinelli called "extraordinary."

Cuccinelli said he has attempted to change the way laws against Medicaid fraud are enforced by putting more emphasis on jail and prison time for those convicted. He cited the example of one business that tried to overbill the government for taxicab rides provided for under Medicaid. He said the case produced a sentence that imposed $170,000 in restitution and 27 months in prison on the violator.

For so many of these companies, the fines and penalties they pay, they view it as a cost of doing business," Cuccinelli said. "Until we're putting them in jail, and they know in Virginia they can go to jail for this, they're going to continue to see it as a monetary risk.

"What we need to do is take away their liberty, not just deny them the profits they illegally made."

The nurses, computer forensic accountants, financial auditors, and contracted doctors his office employs constitute an elite group of anti-fraud experts that has served as a model for other states, Cuccinelli said.

In the next few years, the Attorney General's office will be stepping up training programs to help citizens throughout the state identify cases of Medicaid fraud and elder abuse and report them to state investigators, he said.

"This is so you can be our eyes and ears in every corner of the commonwealth," Cuccinelli said.

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