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Obama's high-tech bounty hunters -- can this squad of waste, fraud and abuse detectives save healthcare? [Updated]

March 10, 2010 |  8:29 am

Health care reform supporters rally in Washington March 9, 2010

After 18 months of talking, drafting and voting, Democrats find their backs against the wall on what was supposed to be the signature achievement of their reign, with nary a Republican vote in their pocket for healthcare reform.

As the Capitol readies for an epic showdown, the Congressional Budget Office is calculating how much the bill will cost -- which could provide talking points for the bill's critics. The Senate parliamentarian is drafting a paper to explain the arcane procedure called reconciliation, which could make Vice President Joe Biden, who technically presides over the Senate, a key player. Tea Party activists are descending to lobby wavering moderates against the measure, while Democratic organizers are -- some would say finally -- fighting back with rallies to support it.

President Obama, meanwhile, is doing what he does best: taking his populist campaign-mode vigor back on the road.

And this time, as he delivers another sleeves-rolled-up stump speech at St. Charles High School near St. Louis today, he's got a new pitch that could finally produce some bipartisan agreement. The idea: Get rid of waste and fraud -- estimated to cost $54 billion last year -- by hiring private auditors who, using high-tech computers, could scan Medicaid billing data for patterns of phony claims. The bounty hunters would get a fee, taxpayers would get relief, and a lot fewer seniors would be riding around in those motorized wheelchairs that give them an excuse not to exercise their bones and muscles.

Obama's also directing his Cabinet officers to step up their use of the accounting bounty hunters.

[Updated at 9:55 a.m.: Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse is a perennial favorite among Republicans, so they were quick to dismiss this latest Obama charm offensive. “Tackling fraud and abuse is one of the issues that can and should form the basis of a bipartisan, step-by-step approach to healthcare reform," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday, "not as a hook to drag this monstrous bill over the finish line."]

Kind of makes you wonder why the Democrats didn't think of this sooner.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Getty Images

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