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Private contractors working for the Medicare agency recouped $237.8 million in the six-month period that ended in March, according to a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  

So-called Recovery Audit Contractors are charged with reviewing claims data for errors such as overpayments to hospitals, doctors and other providers.  

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, applauded the new report.  

"Our efforts to better protect taxpayer dollars by curbing fraudulent and improper Medicare payments are paying off," Carper said in a statement. "We have already seen more than three times the amount of money recovered compared to last year, and we still have six months to go for 2011.  

"This is important progress, but more needs to be done. Recent estimates put the total number of Medicare improper payments at a staggering $47.9 billion annually. That's a lot of money, especially as we struggle with a massive federal deficit."  

The audits aren't without detractors, however. The healthcare reform law calls for expanding their role into Medicaid, but providers worried that they're overly aggressive have succeeded in delaying a planned April 1 start date.  

"We continue to have concerns about the perverse incentive structure and burdensome nature of the Medicare Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program and firmly believe that the best way to reduce improper coding is through education and outreach," said a recent letter to CMS from several physicians groups.