Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Carmel on the Case: Medical Theft
The federal Medicare program is a favorite target for con artists, and they're doing more than scamming the government, they're stealing medical identities too. Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- These FBI agents are part of a task force aimed at Medicare fraud. On this day, they were checking businesses that have sent huge bills to the government for services and supplies. The agents want to see what records they have to prove the bills are legit, but, time and again, they found nothing but locked doors on small offices.
Christopher Macrae: "We're standing outside your business, and there's no one here."
Despite the fact the visits were during business hours, there was no one around. The agents call them "ghost offices," and, in some buildings, there are several on one floor, and neighbors say they never see any activity.
Yet, the companies are billing for huge amounts.
Brian Waterman: "The interesting thing about this place, it's billed $2.6 million in one month."
The agents are checking companies that have submitted bills that have raised red flags. The bills won't be paid until their questions are answered. For example, a small pharmacy billed more than $800,000 in one month.
Christopher Macrae: "We are suspicious because when they gave us some prescriptions to look at, every patient was being subscribed the exact three medications at the exact same dosage."
Carmel Cafiero: "And this is about more than money. Our medical identities are being stolen. There are lists with all our medical information being bought and sold like trading cards by Medicare con artists."
And Jack Hurdt knows how that can hurt.
Jack Hurdt: "Fell off scaffold and injured my shoulder."
He couldn't get the physical therapy he needed because his benefits had been used up. A medical center in Miami had already billed thousands for therapy he says he never received.
Jack Hurdt: "I don't know these people, I've never heard of them, but they got my name, address, Social Security number and all my data."
Cecilia Franco: "We're talking about billions."
Cecilia Franco is in charge of the Miami office for Medicare, she says a big problem is people giving out their Medicare numbers to the wrong people.
Cecilia Franco: "Keep that number to your chest. Do not share that number, and if you suspect fraud, please report it."
But even that is no guarantee, office workers at hospitals and clinics and doctors' offices are stealing and selling medical identity information, information that is then used to bill for supplies that never were delivered or treatment that never took place.
So, the FBI is looking at records and, on top of everything else, they're finding a lot of people that have been treated after they died.
Brian Waterman: "This is the company that had almost $500,000 in billing for patients that had already died."
Carmel Cafiero: "Although the agents didn't get many answers on this day, you can be sure they'll be back."
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