Good morning. In just a few days, I will report to the American people and the Congress on the State of the Union, and I'll propose new ways to meet the many challenges of this exciting new century. One of the most important challenges we have is strengthening and modernizing Medicare. Today I want to give you a progress report on our efforts to do just that, through our ongoing fight against fraud, waste, and abuse in the Medicare system.
For more than 30 years now, Medicare has helped us fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations, to protect the health of older Americans. But when I became President, Medicare was projected to go bankrupt by 1999. Since I took office, we have made tough choices to strengthen Medicare. We've extended the life of the Trust Fund until at least 2015, with better management not only of Medicare but of the economy and by waging a sustained campaign against Medicare fraud.
Medicare fraud and waste are more than an abuse of the system; they're an abuse of the taxpayer. By overbilling, charging for phony procedures, and selling substandard supplies, Medicare cheats cost taxpayers hundreds of millions a year. That's why we've assigned more Federal prosecutors and FBI agents than ever to fight this kind of fraud, and why we've invested in new tools to investigate and prosecute these crimes. All told, our efforts have prevented the wasteful spending of an estimated $50 billion, and aggressive enforcement has recovered nearly $1.6 billion for the Medicare Trust Fund.
Today I'm releasing two reports that show just how effective this fight against fraud has been. Americans can be proud. The first report shows that in 1999 we recovered nearly half a billion dollars in fines and settlements and returned three-quarters of that to the Medicare Trust Fund. The second report, on Medicare integrity, shows our success in catching fraudulent claims and preventing $5.3 billion worth of inappropriate payments in the last year alone. So when it comes to prosecuting fraud and abuse, we're doing more than filing cases; we're also winning convictions. In the last year, convictions in health care fraud cases shot up by a fifth, for an increase of more than 410 percent since I became President.
Just this week the Department of Justice won another important victory for Medicare beneficiaries. A health care company had been bilking Medicare by sending patients for needless tests and procedures. The more tests providers ordered, the more kickbacks they got in return—lavish dinners, yacht trips. Federal prosecutors took the company to court and won the largest such settlement in history, recovering nearly half a billion dollars.
The more cases we win, the more criminals we convict, the clearer the message becomes: Medicare fraud is a serious crime with serious consequences.
Though our efforts are stronger than ever, Medicare contractors still pay false claims totaling in the billions. That is simply unacceptable. So today I'm announcing a new initiative to crack down on fraud and abuse in Medicare. My balanced budget for 2001 will create a team of Medicare fraud fighters—one in the office of every Medicare contractor in America—and take other new steps to ensure that our response to fraud is coordinated and quick. The budget also funds new technologies to track false claims.
I urge Congress to make these investments and to give Medicare the authority to bid competitively for contractors who administer the program, as well as for services provided directly to beneficiaries.
Medicare is vital to the health of our Nation. It's too important ever to be compromised. If we take these steps to reform and strengthen Medicare, and if we modernize it with a voluntary prescription drug benefit, then we will adapt a program that has worked in the past to the needs of the future.
Thanks for listening.