Fraud and abuse find way into mainstream media

Friday, October 31, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - The power mobility business garnered lots of attention in the weeks and months leading to the early-September Wheeler Dealer announcement by CMS Administrator Tom Scully.

Chatter in the industry spread like wildfire to the mainstream media, with a bevy of power wheelchair fraud headlines hitting major news stands across the country.

The following is a digest of some of the stories that appeared in major newspapers in the weeks before CMS focused its spotlight in the issue of power mobility fraud and abuse.

Los Angeles Times July 20:

LOS ANGELES - In the last five years, the cost of supplying wheelchairs to disabled, elderly and needy Californians has more than doubled. Last year alone, the California Medical Assistance program bought 16,723 chairs for $66.1 million.

Increased demand helped push wheelchair spending upward, and so did technology advances that made chairs more sophisticated and pricey.

But state officials have made only sporadic and largely futile efforts to control what they spend on the most expensive piece of medical equipment Medi-Cal buys.

The Associated Press Aug. 4:

MIAMI - A man indicted on fraud charges pleaded guilty to leading a multi-million dollar scheme that staged the delivery of expensive power wheelchairs, then billed Medicare for them.

The charges against Todd W. Neff stemmed from a February indictment that accused him and six others with conspiring to defraud Medicare out of $5 million.

Neff was the co-owner of two South Florida DME companies that submitted fraudulent bills and recruited Medicare patients to claim they were seeking motorized wheelchairs.

Five of Neff’s accomplices also have pleaded guilty to the charges. The sixth will face trial for charges of money laundering and bill fraud.

The Associated Press Aug. 8:

MIAMI - Medicare was cheated out of more than $20 million through a series of dummy corporations that billed for nonexistent medical equipment for nearly five years, federal prosecutors said .

Fraud and financial-reporting conspiracy charges were announced against Alfredo Oscar Rodriguez, who directed several people in forming bogus companies in order to bill the government for expensive equipment, such as prosthetic limbs, leg braces and power wheelchairs.

Medicare, which was billed for the durable medical equipment, is an agency that health care investigators describe as rife with fraud.

The Houston Chronicle Aug. 17:

HOUSTON - LaNoe Gibson thought it was odd when two strangers knocked on her door and offered her a free motorized wheelchair or scooter. All she had to do was give her Medicare ID number and take a two-hour van ride to Houston to see a doctor.

Gibson declined, but many of her neighbors took the trip, she said. Federal authorities say they have been unwittingly used in a massive Houston-based Medicare scam.

For more than a year, medical equipment companies have been combing senior centers across the state and into Louisiana, bringing people to Houston by the bus load for wheelchairs they often don’t need.

The Associated Press Aug. 21:

DETROIT - A man was sentenced Thursday to 63 months in federal prison for a plot to sell unneeded wheelchairs to hundreds of senior citizens.

Hussein Amr, owner and president of United States Medical Supply, was convicted in February on 22 felony counts of federal health care fraud, mail fraud, illegal kickback and money laundering charges.

Amr also billed the insurance companies for wheels and other wheelchair parts as extras at inflated rates.