Eric Holder (Getty Images)
Washington, DC (written by Kelly Kennedy/USA Today) -- Insurance companies, local governments and the federal government will trade health care billing information to help spot fraud trends, the Obama administration announced Thursday.
In the past, privacy laws have prevented such a partnership, but the Department of Health and Human Services and the insurers will scrub out patients' personal information from the bills to address privacy concerns. They can then look for fraud trends and use those to stop recurrences.
Previously, neither the government nor insurers chased the money until it was "out the door" in what has been called a pay-and-chase model, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
"Now, we're taking away crooks' head start," she said at a White House news conference.
The data exchange means private insurers and the government can share prevention tools that work, as well as alert everyone if they spot a fraud scheme, Sebelius said.
Attorney General Eric Holder called it another step in a buildup of fraud-fighting. "The reality is, we have more to do," he said. He touted the administration's record-breaking progress, including recovering $4.1 billion in health care fraud cases in 2011. He said that's about $7 for every $1 spent in fraud prevention, up from about $5 for every $1 spent from 1997 to 2008.
The new effort brings in 21 health insurance companies. Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said the partnership will allow the group to share information, spot identify fraud early and protect patients.
In some cases, Ignagni said, patients have been exposed to radiation for tests they did not need or suffered invasive, unnecessary surgeries.