More than 130 local, state and federal agents and police officers, including 91 from the HHS' Inspector General's Office, raided several Dallas-area wheelchair suppliers Thursday, arresting 10 medical equipment company owners, patient recruiters and one physician who authorities allege falsely billed Medicare more than $36 million for power wheelchairs.
The investigation, which included the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. attorney in Dallas, the U.S. Postal Service, the Office of Homeland Security and 12 police departments, is part of the "Wheeler Dealer" inquiry examining billings for motorized wheelchairs.
As of November 2003, the HHS inspector general has collected more than $52 million from wheelchair suppliers. There are more than 50 investigations in 25 states into an estimated $167 million in fraudulent claims for medically unnecessary wheelchair billings.
Last year, former CMS Administrator Thomas Scully and then-HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist announced a joint effort to fight wheelchair billing fraud. Medicare claims for motorized wheelchairs rose from $22.3 million in 1995 to $663.1 million in 2002 and was expected to top $1.2 billion in 2003.
Claims have quadrupled since 1999, from 55,000 to nearly 170,000.
"We will continue to pursue these scam artists who insist on stealing from U.S. taxpayers by exploiting vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries," said acting Principal Deputy Inspector General Dara Corrigan in a news release.
Jane Boyle, U.S. attorney in Dallas, said Medicare paid out $15 million to the defendants, who were nabbed through the national "Operation Rollover" investigation into wheelchair fraud.
According to criminal indictments returned by a grand jury earlier this week, the defendants, including Cedar Hill, Texas, physician Lloyd McGriff, M.D., allegedly submitted false claims to Medicare for the reimbursement of motorized wheelchairs.
The wheelchair suppliers billed Medicare $8,000 to $10,000 per wheelchair while, the government charges, the defendants seldom delivered the motorized wheelchairs to beneficiaries, usually sending much cheaper scooters instead if they sent anything at all.
The defendants allegedly sent recruiters to obtain beneficiary billing information while promising the motorized wheelchairs, the government alleges. All the defendants are charged with one count of healthcare fraud and most face one count of money laundering, while one defendant faces a single count of mail fraud.
The government is seeking the forfeiture of 12 vehicles and $7 million in allegedly illicit proceeds. McGriff did not return Modern Healthcare phone calls seeking comment.