Scam targets Houston

Saturday, May 31, 2003

HOUSTON — HME providers in Houston are growing increasingly frustrated with a rash of shoddy new power mobility dealers and the second-tier manufacturers serving them.

Providers contacted by HME News say the dealers in question belong to a particular ethnic group and are practicing the kind of business that tarnishes the reputation of the HME industry and is drawing the attention of FBI and OIG investigators.

The questionable business protocols involve dealers who are reportedly ferrying Medicare beneficiaries to doctors’ offices to get signed off on the need for power mobility equipment. The scams involve ‘substitutions,’ in which a dealer will sell a Medicare beneficiary on a K0011 power wheelchair, bill for that, but deliver a scooter.

Dealers in Houston say the FBI has dedicated an agent to the investigation, and they believe the OIG has also launched an investigation. The OIG declined to confirm whether an investigation was ongoing. One agent did allow that such scams do occur in pockets.

A number of HME providers say they’ve fielded calls from these new dealers who are seeking subcontractors to do their service work.

“I get four to five calls a week, but I refuse all these requests,” said Larry Rice, general manager of the Wheelchair Shop in Houston. “If you are going to sell [wheelchairs], you need to measure for [them].”

While other dealers decline to handle calls from this new breed of dealer, Rice has engaged them, if only to get a handle on this kind of competition. He says the dealers he’s talked to are only interested in Medicare. They don’t know how to properly fit patients to their chairs.

“When I ask if they plan on attending manufacturer training or subscribe to NRRTS code of ethics , they show no interest and have no idea what NRRTS is,” said Rice. HME