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By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity doctorsmoney

Four years ago, Medicare auditors came to an alarming conclusion: the federal government shouldn’t have paid a half-dozen insurance plans hundreds of millions of dollars to treat seniors in especially poor health.

The findings signaled that billing errors could be deeply rooted within private Medicare Advantage plans — which contract with the federal government to care for nearly 16 million elderly Americans — and that these abuses could be wasting taxpayer dollars at a ferocious clip.