TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Medicare recipients are fed up with COVID-19 tests they didn’t order piling up in their mailboxes.
Even more infuriating — Medicare continues to pay even after recipients complain that the orders are bogus.
This has been going on since last year and Tampa Bay area Medicare recipients say orders—and bills—have ramped up in recent months.
This appears to be in part due to medical companies from across the country attempting to get orders in before Medicare stops the reimbursements.
“This is fraud,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa). “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this.”
Yet, as our Better Call Behnken investigation has found, crooks are getting away with it, and making off with millions of dollars in Medicare money. That means we’re all paying for this fraud with our tax money.
Robbie Baxley is one of dozens who have called Better Call Behnken to investigate an influx of mysterious shipments of COVID-19 tests. His mother has received more than 50 text kits she didn’t order, and Medicare explanation of benefits paperwork shows the government keeps paying.
“I’ve asked them if we can flag my mother’s account so that if it’s a Covid test to just deny, deny deny,” Baxley said. “But they say they can’t do that.”
Baxley’s paperwork shows Medicare paid around $94 for each claim.
It’s infuriating to Al Ravenna, who used to investigate Medicaid fraud for a living, but can’t put a stop to the tests he’s receiving.
“They get that Medicare number and they just bang it and bang it,” he said. “And as long as they keep getting the checks, they’re going to keep doing it.”
You may be wondering, how do these labs get your Medicare number and why so many tests, right now?
Numbers are stolen through a data breach or just tricking you into forking it over. Medicare announced it would stop paying for the “free” COVID-19 tests, as of earlier this month. Rep. Kathy Castor says that fueled a last minute shipping spree.
“It sounds like they’re dumping their inventory right now, billing Medicare, and they should not get away with this,” Castor said. “You’ve given me the ammunition to take it to HSS and the inspector general.”
Castor followed up with a letter to federal regulators, citing 8 On Your Side and writing, “I urge the department to act swiftly and strongly by not reimbursing these companies.”
Last month, the Department of Justice charged 18 people with Covid-related fraud, including two people in Florida, accused of buying Medicare numbers and submitting over $8.4 million for Covid tests.
Investigator Shannon Behnken took viewers concerns to Scott Lampert, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for the federal government. His agency is charged with investigating this type of fraud.
Behnken asked if viewers complaints are being taken seriously since they continue to receive tests, despite so many warnings that these tests are bogus.
“Every complaint we receive, whether it’s on the phone, via mail, or on our website, is taken completely seriously and we try to do our investigations as thoroughly and efficiently as we can,” Lampert said. “We have an ongoing number of investigations, it certainly had our attention and we are committed to stopping all instances of fraud, involving over the counter Covid- 19 test kits.”
As for Medicare’s culpability for paying despite fraud warnings, Lampert directed questions to other departments. Meanwhile, he recommend you look at your Medicare benefits statements closely.
“If you don’t recognize the provider, if you don’t recognize any of the services on that statement, call us up, give it to us,” Lampert said. “It helps us conduct our investigations.”
Here is where to report suspected fraud:
The HHS-OIG Hotline: visit TIPS.HHS.GOV or call 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477)
HHS-OIG’s COVID-19 Special Fraud Alert, with more information on COVID-19-related schemes: Fraud Alert: COVID-19 Scams | Office of Inspector General | Government Oversight | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (hhs.gov)