The state of Illinois provided Dorothy Cooper with a Medicaid caregiver who was supposed to feed and bathe her in the home, and make sure her medical needs were met.
In the past, Cooper would have been treated in a nursing home for her medical condition. Instead, the Southern Illinois woman joined the growing number of Americans receiving their care at home, a national trend expected to accelerate rapidly because it's cheaper for payers and more comfortable for many patients.
Cooper also suffered one of the drawbacks of home healthcare—its particular susceptibility to fraud.
She died at age 62 from neglect in March 2013 as a shadow of her former self, according to court records and public officials. Malnutrition had shrunk her body from 200 lbs. to just 80, and authorities say she was left unwashed to the point that infections turned into sepsis. Her Medicaid caregiver, Lisa C. Luckett, was charged by federal authorities with healthcare fraud and by prosecutors in St. Clair County, Ill., with criminal neglect of an elderly person resulting in death.
Authorities say Luckett, 50, a personal care attendant not affiliated with a home-care firm, collected $78,336 in Medicaid home-care reimbursements between 2006 and 2013. She split some of the cash with conspirators but, according to prosecutors, providing no services beyond letting Cooper live in Luckett's home in Cahokia, Ill.
The life-and-death nature of the Luckett case is unusual, but recent history shows that home-care fraud is not. Luckett was among 15 people arrested and charged in separate cases with home healthcare fraud in Southern Illinois that same day, July 11. It was the second such round-up of alleged home-care fraudsters in just over a year in the southern end of the state.
“We will have more,” says Gerald Roy, special agent in charge of the Kansas City region of HHS' inspector general's Office of Investigations. “There is a very bright spotlight being shone on these programs.”