Feds break up $1.2B Medicare orthopedic brace scam

Sep 2012
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18,568
SoCal
#1
I keep seeing those ads on TV, and knew there had to be something hinky.

Feds break up $1.2B Medicare orthopedic brace scam
Federal authorities said Tuesday they've broken up a $1.2 billion Medicare scam that peddled unneeded orthopedic braces to hundreds of thousands of seniors via foreign call centers.

The Justice Department announced charges against 24 people across the U.S., including doctors accused of writing bogus prescriptions for unneeded back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces. Others charged included owners of call centers, telemedicine firms and medical equipment companies.

The Health and Human Services inspector general's office said the fast-moving scam morphed into multiple related schemes, fueled by kickbacks among the parties involved. The FBI, the IRS, and 17 U.S. attorney's offices took part in the crackdown. Arrests were made Tuesday morning.

Medicare's anti-fraud unit said it's taking action against 130 medical equipment companies implicated. They billed the program a total of $1.7 billion, of which more than $900 million was paid out.

Telemarketers would reach out to seniors offering "free" orthopedic braces, also touted through television and radio ads. Beneficiaries who expressed interest would be patched through to call centers involved in the scheme. Officials described an "international telemarketing network" with call centers in the Philippines and throughout Latin America.

The call centers would verify seniors' Medicare coverage and transfer them to telemedicine companies for consultations with doctors.

"The telemedicine we are talking about is basically a tele-scam," said Gary Cantrell, who oversees fraud investigations for the HHS inspector general's office. "We are not talking about the use of advanced technology to provide better access to care."

The doctors would write prescriptions for orthopedic braces, regardless of whether the patients needed them or not. In some cases several braces were prescribed for the same patient.

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