Tags: Fahrenthold | Medicare | scooter | fraud

Washington Post's Fahrenthold on Government Waste

By    |   Thursday, 25 September 2014 07:57 AM

David Fahrenthold has the government waste beat as a national reporter for The Washington Post. While reading his Aug. 17 front-page article titled "A Medicare Scheme That Just Kept Rolling Along" on the "power wheelchair scam" that flourished in the provision of scooters to Medicare participants, this writer thought, this is exactly what one would expect from any large government program. Fahrenthold appeared recently on C-SPAN's Q&A to talk about this. He was interviewed by C-SPAN founder and star interviewer Brian Lamb.

Fahrenthold explained that it took him a while to understand how people would submit false claims for the power wheelchairs, which are very expensive and were meant for only the most disabled beneficiaries. Participants in the scheme would get able-bodied elderly people to apply for a chair, submit a bill to Medicare and Medicare would pay a lot, often $5,000 for a chair that only cost $1,000 wholesale. The scheme had its roots in the mid-1990s, and Medicare didn't end it until last year.

The story was datelined Los Angeles because Fahrenthold covered a trial there where the details of the scam were presented by government prosecutors. The case involved a woman from Nigeria who lives in Los Angeles and ran a scam for six or seven years and made more than $4 million, having prescribed more than 4,000 wheelchairs.

Patients who testified walked into the courtroom, thus immediately demonstrating to the jury that they did not need a scooter. The defendant was convicted on nine counts and is awaiting sentencing. Fahrenthold reported that there have been dozens of such trials, some involving $10 million or more. He stated that only the biggest and most blatant schemes are prosecuted, so careful scammers could escape prosecution.

Lamb posted a quote from the article that the total cost of the program since 1999 was $8.2 billion for 2.7 million scooters, and the government doesn't even guess how much went to scammers. Fahrenthold said he was amazed to learn that Medicare pays the bills when submitted fairly automatically. Only later did it find that 80 percent of them should not have been paid.

Perhaps the most entertaining, but at the same time infuriating, parts of the interview was the clip of the ad many readers have seen how easy it is to get a free scooter from Medicare through The Scooter Store, supposedly for "a generation of Americans who helped build and protect our nation," representing "Medicare at its best" and the patients' "American dream." The company was finally shut down last year, perhaps representing "Justice at its best." The Scooter Store had settled a case in 2007 for a fine of $4 million. This time it was raided by 150 federal agents and cut off.

Able-bodied people were found to have scooters in their homes with stuff stacked on them. Fahrenthold noted that the source of the scam and of many Medicare scams was Miami, at the intersection of "professional criminals and old people." Prospects were told, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you" and that even though they could walk, they should act quickly while the program was available.

Fahrenthold reported that Medicare would process 4 million claims a day, with only 3 percent being reviewed by a human. Medicare is such a huge operation that even $8.2 billion billed for scooters in a year was "small potatoes." In fiscal year 2013, Medicare paid out almost $50 billion in improper payments for its array of programs.

Lamb played a clip of an interview by CBS of a former Scooter Store employee on how the company would "bulldoze" prospects into applying for the chairs. At the peak of the scam the abuses got so bad that fraudulent "patients" were racing the scooters. The proprietor of The Scooter Store has not yet been prosecuted and told Fahrenthold that he is trying to clear his name.

The conversation then moved to another article by Fahrenthold that laid out how retirement paperwork for federal employees is processed using paper-based technology that requires the retrieval of documents stored in a mine in Boyers, Penn., part of the "underground" economy. This young writer could someday receive a den full of Pulitzer prizes.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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David Fahrenthold has the government waste beat as a national reporter for The Washington Post. He Fahrenthold appeared recently on C-SPAN's Q&A to talk about his Aug. 17 front-page article titled "A Medicare Scheme That Just Kept Rolling Along" on the "power wheelchair scam."
Fahrenthold, Medicare, scooter, fraud
Thursday, 25 September 2014 07:57 AM
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