Looking for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse? Start Here | Opinion

With the release of President Joe Biden's budget, Washington's annual financial war games have begun in earnest.

But this year, the stakes are arguably higher than they have ever been before, with our fragile economy just beginning to recover from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, a divided Congress, and far too many Americans still being hammered by high inflation and rising costs on everything from milk and eggs to prescription medicines. Add in the real possibility of the nation's first-ever default on its debt and the economic chaos that would ensue, and you have a game of high-stakes poker unlike almost anything Washington has ever seen before.

When it comes to a budget showdown in Washington, facts rarely get in the way of a good sound bite, and the reality of what drives our debt and deficits matters far less than the political reality of the parties involved in the debate. In short, it is kabuki theater, but with real-world dangerous consequences for working families across America.

Budget Battle or Pure Theater?
Sen. Bernie Sanders takes part in a press conference at the Capitol Building on March 1, in Washington, DC. It was held to discuss the Democratic policy and communications committee's (DPCC) report on Congressional Republicans budget proposals ahead of the release of President Joe Biden's budget proposal on March 9. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In this fact-free performance we'll inevitably hear the Republican argument that all can be solved by simply rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs. While this argument completely ignores the fact that Republicans' own spending during the Trump years—particularly their unpaid-for tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy and corporations—has contributed heavily to the nation's debt, their bottom-line point is not without some merit. But not in the way they intend it.

To Republicans, the phrase "cut waste, fraud, and abuse" is nothing but poll-tested language to justify their long-stated policy goal of gutting programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.

The truth is Congress should cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse, but they should do it by cutting corporate price gouging, not services and benefits for patients and families.

If Republicans were serious about rooting out waste and curbing abuses to save taxpayers money, they would start with taking the next step to lower prescription drug prices.

The savings to Medicare from the prescription drugs reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the deficit by nearly $240 billion over the next 10 years. If those reforms were expanded, taxpayers and patients would save billions more over the next decade.

But instead of requiring more drug corporations with monopoly power to negotiate prices, Republicans are trying to repeal the law so that drug corporations can continue to make huge profits by overcharging patients. To make it worse, their repeal bill would also roll back tax increases on wealthy drug corporations making billions in profits and on their super-rich shareholders and executives, who already pay lower tax rates than many middle-class workers.

Repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, as Republicans are trying to do, would cost Americans more money, not less. Moreover, it returns us to the wasteful spending in Medicare and the same fraud and abuse that the GOP alleges they want to end. A serious plan on cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse" in health care must go in the other direction: ending price gouging and holding corporations accountable for profiteering rather than rewarding them with inflated profits and more tax breaks to boot.

In fact, Congress should tackle price gouging at its root by stopping big pharma from setting ridiculously high launch prices and raising prices anytime they want on any brand-name drug, forcing patients to go without medicines they need or go into debt to buy them. And they shouldn't stop with Medicare: People of all ages are struggling with drug prices. Extending the same reforms from the Inflation Reduction Act to all insurance companies would save taxpayers, employers, and patients a lot more money while making the system more fair.

When it comes to Medicare, which the Republicans are targeting for cuts, the GOP can do much more to reduce waste if they focus on cuts to profits rather than cuts to benefits. Instead of sounding a false alarm that Medicare is going bankrupt, lawmakers should adopt simple solutions to cut waste and generate the savings needed to replenish the Medicare trust funds.

In addition to expanding Medicare negotiations to lower prices on more drugs, Congress should stop private Medicare Advantage plans from overcharging taxpayers billions of dollars for offerings that don't produce better health outcomes than traditional Medicare while costing taxpayers much more. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services already plans to claw back $4 billion in overpayments, but Congress should take action to prevent Medicare Advantage plans from continuing to bilk taxpayers to boost their profits, especially given that profit margins on Medicare Advantage plans already outpace every other insurance market.

Enabling the nation's largest insurance companies and prescription drug corporations to charge Medicare as much as they want puts Medicare in greater jeopardy as the population grows and more and more people enroll in Medicare in the future. Now is a good time to ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare by cutting actual waste, fraud, and abuse that siphons money from taxpayers to support ever-growing profits.

Jorge is the executive director of Health Care for America Now.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.