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Over $1 billion in taxpayer money stolen in scam

by By Courtney Deeren - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 16th 2019 10:00 pm
billion dollar bust The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operation to uncover a massive Medicare scam, Operation Brace Yourself finally came to an end. In a press conference by the departments (above) they broke down how the medical companies would profit off the sale of medical braces.
billion dollar bust The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operation to uncover a massive Medicare scam, Operation Brace Yourself finally came to an end. In a press conference by the departments (above) they broke down how the medical companies would profit off the sale of medical braces.

 

For most people, when a number pops up on their phone screen and it’s either a number they don’t recognize or a number they think could be a telemarketer they ignore it. Unfortunately, not everyone does.

Some people answer the call unknowingly and get sucked into whatever scam is being sold to them from the other end of the line. Most recently, a scam targeting Medicaid users racked up upward of $1 billion dollars in taxpayer money. 

This telemarketing scam in particular involved 24 people, with medical professionals and company CEOs being charged as well. The telemarketers in this particular scam were located in call centers throughout the Philippines and Latin America, according to ABC News. The scammers targeted those eligible for Medicare, a federal health insurance program for older Americans. 

Through the use of radio and television ads as well as cold calls, the scammers were able to convince unsuspecting victims to receive unnecessary knee or back braces at low or no cost. Once they had the insurance information, they would then bill Medicare and even gve a kickback to doctors who were willing to write a prescription for the braces.

“Unscrupulous doctors, unscrupulous durable medical equipment company owners, these marketing firms, their only interest is in the paycheck — is in that taxpayer dollar that's being stolen,” Gary Cantrell, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, said.

It may be hard to believe that there are medical professionals out there crooked enough to do something so heinous as to take advantage of those unknowing parties. However, it isn’t uncommon for scams, particularly involving Medicaid or Medicare to occur.

A quick Google search will reveal pages of other articles written in past months, spanning years that detail the events of previous Medicaid scams. In fact, according to the Attorney General’s website, ag.ny.gov, it is estimated that $40 billion dollars per year is lost to telemarketing fraud. 

What’s more is that 92 percent of adults in the U.S. reported receiving fraudulent telemarketing offers, according to a recent Louis-Harris Survey conducted for the National Consumers League.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who conducted the raid, reported that it was one of the largest schemes in U.S. history, according to an article published on their website.

The FBI found that of the 24 people charged, three of which being Medicare professionals who wrote over the phone prescriptions for the unnecessary medical equipment, the remaining 21 were “owners or high-ranking officials in medical equipment or telemedicine companies.” This has been going on for five years, according to the report.

The medical professionals who were charged were “telemedicine doctors” that patients were urged to use in place of their primary care physician for “maximum efficiency.” Prior to this the doctors and patients did not know each other.

“The telemedicine doctors did not have a relationship with the Medicare patients and could not physically examine them,” the indictment said.

As a result of this, over 100 equipment companies will have their Medicare payments shut off. During a news conference in Columbia, South Carolina, officials said the operation took down every aspect of the scheme including the international call centers as well as the telemarketing and shipping companies involved. 

“Alleged fraud like this takes money away that could be put into research or better care for patients,” said Special Agent Karen Corbett, an FBI Criminal Investigative Division supervisor who oversaw the case. “That billion dollars could’ve been spent on medical care for patients who really needed it.”

This raid was conducted over the course of several months and included around 20 FBI field offices as well as many other partner agencies. The Internal Revenue Service’s Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were all included in the raid. 

The scariest part about all of this is that it is so easy nowadays for just about anyone to get your contact information and con their way into getting personal information, such as insurance and/or Social Security information. The big questions looming over the heads of many is  how do we keep letting this happen? 

How are the telemarketing companies used in these types of scams not shut down? How are there people in the world, who are trained and certified to help patients, becoming so crooked they are okay scamming innocent victims out of hard earned money? This doesn’t just affect those who were scammed, it also affects any taxpayer, as their money goes toward Medicare. These types of events strip away the trust we feel as consumers, and take advantage of a large part of the population. When will it stop? 

 

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