Tougher Penalties for Medicare Scammers

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By Mary Jane Stern

During July 2010 Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Seblius made South Florida their first stop of a seven city itinerary for Regional Healthcare Fraud Prevention Summits as part of the Obama Administration's effort to crack down on health care fraud.

A recent study reported South Florida as the leading state for Medicare fraud. The government has made it harder to submit fraudulent claims, according to Secretary Sebelius. But in South Florida the scammers have been switching gears and concentrating in the area of mental health and physical therapy.

According to recent Medicare reports, Florida mental health clinics submitted $421 million in bills to Medicare during 2009.  This represents about four times more than what the State of Texas submitted or any other state.

According to various reports, many Medicare fraud prosecutions still involve medical equipment such as wheelchairs, home health care for diabetics, HIV medical services to mention a few.

On July 16th, dozens of people were arrested in what federal authorities called the nation's biggest Medicare fraud crackdown, netting suspects in five states.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that arrests have been made in Detroit, Miami, Houston, New York City and Baton Rouge, La.

In some of the cases, employees of various companies actually got paid to recruit Medicare beneficiaries and have them participate in the scam. They did this by persuading elderly people to sell their Medicare identification numbers, which were used to defraud the system.

Taxpayers are Footing the Bill.

This is a problem for all of us – whether we are on Medicare or not.  We are all taxpayers and it cost us between $3 billion and $4 billion annually in taxes.  According to experts, Medicare and other healthcare fraud costs upwards of $68 billion annually.

What can we do?

  • First, guard your Medicare number
  • Don’t just give it out and don’t sell it to anyone.
  • Find out why someone is asking for the number
  • If it doesn’t sound right call Medicarw and report the incident.

Medicare has put out a brochure on how you can help fight Medical Identity Theft and Medicare Fraud. You can download the brochure here: http://www.stopmedicarefraud.gov/brochure.html.

Report Medicare Fraud

Report Fraud to the Inspector General.
email: HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov
Call: 1-800-HHS-TIPS / (1-800-447-8477)
TTY: 1-800-377-4950

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