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A Times Editorial

Put Medicare fraudsters on trial

Not to speak ill of the dead, but they simply have to stop billing Medicare. Or, better yet, Medicare simply has to stop paying those bills.

In another Washington head-shaking moment, a congressional investigation has found that Medicare has been paying medical supply companies tens of millions of dollars for medical equipment charged under the identification numbers of hundreds of dead doctors.

This fraudulent practice was exposed back in a 2001 government report, yet the agency has allowed it to continue. From 2000 to 2007, at least $77-million worth of devices like wheelchairs and oxygen equipment were charged to the federal program for the elderly and disabled under the IDs of about 1,500 dead doctors. One physician had his number used posthumously 484 times from 2003 to 2006, bilking the government of $544,000.

You would think in this age of instant computing, when it is fairly easy to merge databases, that dead doctors could be purged from the "okay to pay" pile. But this is a government bureaucracy, which too often means we need congressional hearings, investigations and reports to get an agency to take obvious, easy and responsible steps to prevent the fraud that it knows is occurring.

Not to worry, say agency officials, change is coming. Herb Kuhn, deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that the agency will start using monthly death reports from Social Security to screen out doctors who have died. And a new system is scheduled for implementation in the fall that will accredit medical equipment suppliers in an attempt to weed out fraudsters.

It's about time.

While the agency is looking forward, law enforcement should be looking back. This is also a criminal matter, and it shouldn't be too difficult to track down the companies that participated in these fraudulent billings or their principals. Then, prosecute them.

There is something backward about a mugger on the street who steals the contents of someone's wallet going to prison for years while someone who defrauds a government program of tens of thousands of dollars is allowed to get away with it.

We'd like to see a perp walk for these "respectable" felons too.

Put Medicare fraudsters on trial 07/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2008 9:10pm]
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