JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate gave initial approval of a Medicaid fraud bill on Tuesday on the same day Gov. Matt Blunt issued a statement making it clear that he wanted the body to advance the legislation.
"This legislation will help continue our strong efforts to fight Medicaid fraud and ensure that scarce state resources are getting to those in need," Blunt said in a press release.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, has continued to push the legislation despite opposition from some health-care providers.
"I want this legislation to mark that the current legislature is dedicated to stamping out Medicaid fraud," Koster said during Senate debate.
Koster said the bill has stalled in recent weeks over concerns from some Medicaid providers about whether the legislation would be too harsh on criminal providers.
The bill requires a person convicted of Medicaid fraud to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole. Koster said the "85 Percent Rule" is a provision usually reserved for violent crimes such as murder or sexual assault.
"We need to make the provider community aware that skirting the law is not acceptable," Koster said.
In a prepared statement before the Senate vote, Blunt said the bill would have positive effects for the state of Missouri.
"We owe it to hardworking Missouri taxpayers to ensure we have a system that is free of fraud and one that seeks to punish those caught trying to game the system."
The bill would give incentives to whistleblowers that implicate fraudulent providers of Medicaid. There are currently no incentives offered to whistleblowers in Missouri. Implicators would be offered up to 35 percent of the reward won in court.
Koster said he heard a rumor Monday night that the governor was thinking of doing something publicly about the bill, but wasn't for sure.
"I am grateful for the encouragement from the governor," Koster said.
Koster said the governor's office believed the bill was a big deal and supported it without any changes made.
The bill also would adopt language from the Federal False Claims Act that would make the state eligible to collect resources from the federal government.
Koster said anywhere from $200-$500 million is lost every year to Medicaid fraud in Missouri.
The measure faces a second, formal Senate vote before going to the House.
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