Commemorative coins similar to these ones will no longer be made en masse by the U.S. Mint. (Associated Press)

The U.S. Mint is suspending production of commemorative presidential one dollar coins as part of a government-wide plan to cut wasteful projects and reduce fraud.

Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made the announcement Tuesday at a Cabinet-level meeting that touted the progress of the White House’s Campaign to Cut Waste, an effort launched at the height of the summer’s federal debt negotiations to demonstrate the Obama administration’s commitment to curtailing federal spending.

A 2005 law mandated the production of four new commemorative presidential coins in the orders the presidents served every year through 2016. Twenty presidents have been honored, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield, who were honored this year.

But Biden said the project is unpopular, with about $1.4 billion worth of the coins are sitting unused in Federal Reserve vaults.

“It will shock you all: The call for Chester A. Arthur coins is not there,” Biden deadpanned during the meeting.

“We shouldn’t be wasting money on money,” Geithner added later, noting that suspending coin production will save taxpayers about $50 million annually.

Treasury officials said that production of the presidential commemorative coins will continue, but only if they are ordered by coin collectors, who now will be forced to pay for the coin’s production and shipping. The mint will continue producing other commemorative coins that honor the first ladies, the American buffalo and the 50 states, among others.

Suspending production of the presidential coins also will affect the jobs of 26 mint employees, but Treasury officials said those workers would likely be reassigned to other projects.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Justice Department also announced the recovery of more than $5.6 billion in fraud committed against the government in fiscal 2011 — the most ever recovered in a single year.

Almost $3.4 billion of the funds came in civil fraud recoveries, with more than $2.2 billion tied to criminal fraud, according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who vowed that DOJ “will aggressively investigate and hold accountable those that attempt to defraud the American taxpayer.”

Fraud recoveries are up considerably in recent years, Cole said, jumping by 167 percent since 2008. Justice has recovered $15 billion in total fraud since 2009, of which $8.4 billion was tied to health-care fraud. The money is returned to state governments, Medicare and Medicaid, to the Treasury for deficit reduction and to whistleblowers who initially flagged the fraud.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced plans Tuesday to push insurance companies to withhold payments on suspicious claims by patients who “doctor shop,” or use multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for painkillers and narcotics including OxyContin and Percocet that can easily be abused or resold illegally.

The misuse of prescription drugs results in about 475,000 emergency room visits annually, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday.

A Government Accountability Office report released in October found that about 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries were receiving prescriptions for painkillers from five or more doctors at a cost of about $148 million paid by Medicare. In 2008, GAO said one beneficiary was able to obtain prescriptions for a total of 3,655 oxycodone pills from 58 different prescribers.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

White House: More than $5.6 billion in fraud recovered

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