— A new government report examining Medicaid billings in Florida and three other states shows that taxpayers have sometimes paid for drugs prescribed to dead people or drugs prescribed to living patients from dead doctors.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office report published last month looked at a recent year’s Medicaid billings for prescription drugs in Florida, Arizona, Michigan, and New Jersey — the Fab Four of Medicaid claims — and found that the dead were playing an active role in health care.
This is wrong. Even in Florida.
If you like your dead doctor, you can keep your dead doctor, but not if he or she is still billing Medicaid for your services.
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And once you’re dead, it’s probably best to ease up on the prescriptions and doctor visits.
Just saying. Suggestion: Try kale.
The study found 290 dead doctors in the four states still writing prescriptions for living patients and another group of 170 dead patients still getting government-reimbursed meds.
In all, it amounted to more than $100,000 in drugs prescribed either by or for the dead, the report found.
It concluded that this just might be a sign of “potential waste, fraud and abuse” and suggested that states, which administer Medicaid, enact tougher controls.
“Automatic refill prohibitions may help limit waste and unnecessary program expenditures,” the report said.
Florida Medicaid doesn’t allow automatic refills of pharmacy prescriptions. And Michigan officials offered a benign explanation for the activity of dead doctors in that state.
“Michigan Medicaid officials stated that there are instances in which a dead prescriber may appear to be billing after the day of death,” the report said. “In their program, they stated that this is usually because another member of the physician’s practice writes the prescription and the pharmacy does not update the physician information.”
But there has already been some evidence that post-death medical spending has been going on for a while in Florida, especially during the frenzied heydays of OxyContin abuse.
Medicaid paid more than $63,000 for narcotics prescriptions from 108 Florida doctors who were either dead or barred from writing prescriptions, a 2000 investigation by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper found. In one case, a doctor who had been dead for five years was still actively prescribing drugs.
And in Georgia, an Atlanta doctor pleaded guilty four years ago to defrauding Medicaid by billing for psychological group therapy sessions to nursing home patients who had already died.
Dr. Robert Williams had billed the government for $2 million for therapy sessions at nursing homes during a two-year period.
“An investigation of Williams’ claims showed that, in many cases, he sought payment for services provided to beneficiaries who were deceased at the time he purportedly rendered the care,” the FBI reported. “In two cases, the patient died over a year before he was allegedly seen by Williams in the nursing home.”
There’s a lesson here: Dead people need to pay for their own pick-me-up sessions.
Maybe what is needed is a way to crystallize public awareness toward the understanding that the doctor-patient relationship should involve two living people.
And whether you like Obamacare or not, we can all agree that the dead should be excluded from participating in our system of health care coverage.
It would be a rare health-care initiative with widespread support:
Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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