"Payments deemed 'improper' under these circumstances tend to be the result of documentation and coding errors made by the provider as opposed to payments made for inappropriate claims," Agrawal said in prepared testimony for Wednesday's hearing.
Among other programs with large amounts of improper payments:
—The earned income tax credit, which provides payments to the working poor in the form of tax refunds. Last year, improper payments totaled $14.5 billion. That's 24 percent of all payments under the program.
The EITC is one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the U.S., providing $60.3 billion in payments last year. Eligibility depends on income and family size, making it complicated to apply for the credit — and difficult to enforce, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
"EITC eligibility depends on items that the IRS cannot readily verify through third-party information reporting, including marital status and the relationship and residency of children," Koskinen told a House committee in May. "In addition, the eligible population for the EITC shifts by approximately one-third each year, making it difficult for the IRS to use prior-year data to assist in validating compliance."
— Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor. Last year, improper payments totaled $14.4 billion.
Medicaid, which is run jointly by the federal government and the states, has seen a steady decline in improper payments since 2010, when they peaked at $23 billion.
The program is expanding under President Barack Obama's health law.
—Unemployment insurance, a joint federal-state program that provides temporary benefits to laid-off workers. Amount of improper payments last year: $6.2 billion, or 9 percent of all payments.
The Labor Department said most overpayments went to people who continued to get benefits after returning to work, or who didn't meet state requirements to look for work while they were unemployed. Others were ineligible for benefits because they voluntarily quit their jobs or were fired.
—Supplemental Security Income, a disability program for the poor run by the Social Security Administration. Amount of improper payments: $4.3 billion, or 8 percent of all payments.
Social Security's much larger retirement and disability programs issued $2.4 billion in improper payments, according to agency estimates. Those programs provided more than $770 billion in benefits, so improper payments accounted for less than 1 percent.
Online: http://www.paymentaccuracy.gov/about-improper-payments Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap
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