Docs Need to Blow the Whistle on Fraud

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media , December 15, 2011

The week Berwick talked about fraud with journalists, Gary Cantrell, assistant inspector general for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at HHS, addressed the extent of Medicaid fraud in Congressional testimony. His comments didn't make headlines, but they were revealing nevertheless, as he described the widespread scope of Medicaid fraud, including prescription drug abuse and problems in the home health care services arena.

"We are now seeing more Medicaid fraud cases involving home health services than any other single program area," Cantrell told two House subcommittees. One investigation of a leading home health services company, Maxim Healthcare Services, led to a $150 million settlement of fraud charges.

Fraud in home health services is not a new problem. There have been repeated warnings that CMS needs to address the issue.

"Auditors have been concerned about fraud in home health care for years, but the problem never seems to get solved," according to a 2009 report from the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

As in Medicare, Cantrell identified "persistent fraud trends" involving misuse of prescription drugs in Medicaid. He referred to a case in Washington state in which a physician established connections with local heroin users and wrote medically unnecessary prescriptions for narcotics, including Oxycodone and Vicodin.

Cantrell also revealed that the OIG has a list of the 10 "most wanted" healthcare fugitives. Among them: an Illinois physician, Gautam Gupta, MD, sought for allegedly defrauding Medicaid and private insurance companies of more than $24 million, through weight loss clinics.

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