Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

February 15, 2011

Nichols’ bill to aid in prosecuting Medicaid fraud

JACKSONVILLE — State Senator Robert Nichols (R- Jacksonville) filed a bill Monday in the hopes of putting Medicaid defrauders’ feet a little closer to the fire.

Nichols introduced Senate Bill 688 this week, which would give the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit wider powers to prosecute those charged with stealing from the state.

“Medicaid fraud is a crime against every Texan who pays into the system,” Nichols said in a press release to the Daily Progress. “This gives prosecutors the tools need to better pursue violators.”

The bill is one of two introduced to Texas legislators this week. The other, introduced by House Representative Brandon Creighton (R- Conroe), was introduced at the same time.

According to Nichols’ Media Representative Alicia Pierce, sending the bill to both the House and the Senate is a strategy to “cover all the bases.”

“They’re called companion bills,” she said. “Last session, there was a really controversial voter-id measure, which will come up again this session, it’s already passed the Senate, and so the House did this thing called chubbing, which is basically a way of filibustering and that went on for days and days, so lots of bills that had passed the Senate died for lack of a hearing.”

“Chubbing” is similar to filibustering in that members of the House take up time speaking in order to block the vote on legislation.

During last year’s session, the bill was introduced in the House, but like many other bills, it didn’t make it to a vote and died,Pierce said

According to Pierce, the Attorney General approached Nichols looking for help to expand the powers for prosecuting defrauders.

The bills give prosecutors more power in a number of ways, according to the press release. The previous statute of limitations for prosecuting Medicaid fraud was three years, and would be expanded to seven years if the bill passes. The bill also makes provisions to classify the fraud as an organized crime, since many defrauders work as part of a group.

“It increases penalties, which can act as a deterrent, as well as improve prosecution,” Pierce said.

In the release, Nichols stated that Attorney General Gregg Abbott has made strides in reducing Medicaid.

“Last year, the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit identified $71 million in Medicaid overpayments,” Nichols said. “By giving the division even better legal avenues to prevent fraud, I believe our state will save even more.”

Information on Medicaid fraud in Cherokee County has been requested from the Attorney General’s office through an open-records request.

According to an e-mail by Attorney General Media Representative Tom Kelly, criminal cases of Medicaid fraud in the county has in the past “involved patient abuse in nursing homes and prescription drug abuse by employees,” he said. “There's not much on financial fraud.”

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