Covid Brings Out Medicare Scammers

Authorities are tracking companies that are billing Medicare for Covid test kits they are sending to Medicare beneficiaries who didn’t order them. At $80 to $200 apiece, the claims add up to thousands of dollars paid by taxpayers.

Case in point: The home of a deceased woman in Arkansas received 2-3 test kits per week until the trustee of her estate began looking into it and alerted the government. A Wisconsin woman received 9 test kits she didn’t order in the span of four months.

It’s happening in Michigan, too, says Darren Bartnik, an investigator in the Office of Inspector General, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Nonstop” shipping

Close-up view of covid-19 IgG/IgM rapid test casette indicating a negative infection .

During the pandemic Medicare covered the cost of 8 Covid test kits for beneficiaries. Because standards were relaxed in order to get as many people tested as possible, some unscrupulous companies obtained lists of beneficiaries and began shipping out the kits “nonstop,” Bartnik says. People can’t seem to stop the shipments, whether or not they ordered the kits.

“Any time you’re giving out something free, schemers jump in,” says Bartnik. “Are tests in the hands of people who really want them or are they out there in people’s hands who are going to put them in their basement? The right answer is we get the care and services to those who really need and want them; that’s a wise use of our taxpayer dollars.”

In May, when President Biden declared an official end to the Covid pandemic, the government stopped sending out free Covid test kits. But companies that make or market the kits started to back bill Medicare, using dates before May to bill. Medicare is closing that loop, says Shari Smith, manager of the Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) at AgeWays.

“The only way the scam can stop is if people look at their Medicare Summary Notices or Explanation of Benefits (EOB) and report it to the federal government,” she says.

Look at your EOB

Bartnik says he doesn’t have a figure for how many unrequested test kits have been sent, but the government has become aware of the fraud and no longer allows back billing. Bartnik says that should put an end to the fraud.

He echoed Smith: Medicare beneficiaries should look at the monthly Explanation of Benefits statements they receive listing their claims. If they notice something they didn’t order – whether that’s a Covid test kit, a piece of medical equipment or genetic testing – call 800-HHSTIPS (800-447-8477) or 800-803-7174 (MMAP).

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, report it,” he says. Depending on the case, the government will seek criminal prosecution or recovery of the payments made.