The Washington Post

Commemorative $1 coins scrapped to save money

Federal agencies have recouped more than $5.6 billion from fraudulent acts against the government, officials said Tuesday, as they also announced plans to stop making some money in order to save money.

The U.S. Mint has suspended mass production of commemorative $1 coins with the faces of American presidents as part of the Obama administration’s “Campaign to Cut Waste.”

In addition, the Justice Department said that the more-than $5.6 billion recovered in fiscal 2011 was the largest amount ever recouped in a single year.

The announcements were made at a Cabinet-level meeting intended to highlight the administration’s progress. The White House launched the campaign this summer at the height of the federal debt negotiations to demonstrate President Obama’s seriousness about the issue.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Vice President Biden said that a 2005 law mandated the production of four commemorative presidential coins, but the project has been unpopular with the public. About $1.4 billion in presidential coins are sitting unused in Federal Reserve vaults.

The presidential $1 coin has fallen victim to Washington's cost cutting efforts. (Brian Kersey/AP)

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

Arthur would have been the next president honored in a series that was to continue through 2016.

“We shouldn’t be wasting money on money,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said at the meeting, noting that suspending wide production of the presidential coins should save taxpayers about $50 million annually.

Production of the presidential coins will continue, but only to meet the demand of coin collectors, who will be charged for the coins’ production and associated shipping costs, Treasury officials said. The mint plans to continue producing other commemorative coins that honor, among others, the first ladies, the American buffalo and the 50 states.

Ending wide production of the presidential coins will cost 26 jobs, but officials said those workers will be reassigned to other projects.

At the Justice Department, fraud recoveries are up considerably in recent years, jumping by 167 percent since 2008, with $15 billion recovered since 2009, said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“We will aggressively investigate and hold accountable those that attempt to defraud the American taxpayer,” Cole said at the meeting.

Administration officials said most of the recovered money — $8.4 billion — was tied to health-care fraud and the work of Medicare Fraud Strike Forces, or specialized teams of agents and prosecutors from the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services in nine cities that monitor Medicare spending and quickly bring cases to court. In 2008, the teams brought cases involving $384 million in fraudulent claims; in fiscal 2011, cases topped $1 billion, officials said.

Officials said that the recovered money is returned to state governments, Medicare and Medicaid, to the Treasury for deficit reduction and to whistleblowers who flagged the fraud.

HHS 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, which 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, the GAO said one beneficiary was able to obtain prescriptions for a total of 3,655 oxycodone pills from 58 prescribers.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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