A quarter of the fraudulent billings to Medicare are tied to durable medical equipment, said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division.
“It remains a very significant problem,” Raman said. “We’re talking about things like power wheelchairs and braces that are expensive, and you can see why fraudsters see those as an area where they can profit.”
Last month, the owner of Las Tunas Medical Equipment Inc., in San Gabriel, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to defraud Medicare. Tigran Aklyan admitted that he’d paid the owners of fraudulent medical clinics to write prescriptions and provide documentation for power wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment. He submitted $910,377 in fraudulent claims to Medicare, which paid $653,461.
Another recent scheme in Southern California reportedly lured Medicare beneficiaries to clinics with the promise of free vitamins and juice, only to sign them up for power wheelchairs that weren’t medically necessary. An employee for a medical equipment company, Godwin Onyeabor, reportedly had paid cash to a doctor, Sri J. Wijegunaratne, and a health care professional, Heidi Morishita, to provide fraudulent prescriptions for $1.5 million worth of claims. A federal jury in Los Angeles found all three guilty April 24 for their roles in the scam.
In one of the most high-profile cases involving durable medical equipment this year, the FBI raided the headquarters of the Scooter Store in New Braunfels, Texas, after a federal audit found the company had overbilled Medicare by as much as $87 million from 2009 to 2011. Known for its TV ads informing Medicare recipients, “You may qualify for a power chair or scooter at little or no cost to you,” the Scooter Store was the largest scooter seller in the country.
The company filed for bankruptcy last month. Court papers say the company had $1 million to $10 million in assets, and up to $100 million in debt, including $19.5 million owed to Medicare, the Scooter Store’s largest creditor.