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By Fred Schulte, Kaiser Health News 

A Humana Inc. health plan for seniors in Florida improperly collected nearly $200 million in 2015 by overstating how sick some patients were, according to a new federal audit, which seeks to claw back the money.

The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s recommendation to repay, if finalized, would be “by far the largest” audit penalty ever imposed on a Medicare Advantage company, said Christopher Bresette, an HHS assistant regional inspector general.

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity HHSOIG

Facing major budget and staff cuts, federal officials are scaling back several high-profile health care fraud and abuse investigations, including an audit of the state insurance exchanges that are set to open later this year as a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, which investigates Medicare and Medicaid waste, fraud and abuse, is in the process of  losing a total of 400 staffers — or about 20 percent of the workforce — from its peak strength of 1,800 last year. About 200 of those staffers will have departed by the end of this year, and the other 200 are slated to be gone by the end of 2015.

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity

Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Wshington Photo: Jasmine Norwood/Center for Public Integrity

Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Wshington Photo: Jasmine Norwood/Center for Public Integrity

Citing massive budget and staff cuts, federal officials are set to scale back or drop a host of investigations into Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse — even though cracking down on government waste and cutting health care costs have been top priorities for the Obama administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is set to lose a total of 400 staffers that are deployed nationwide as a primary defense against health care fraud and abuse. Though agency officials have yet to decide which investigations will be shelved as staff dwindles, the existing staff is already stretched so thin that the agency has failed to act on 1,200 complaints over the past year alleging wrongdoing — and expects that number to rise.