Medical equipment scheme goes after seniors, but it’s taxpayers on the hook

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Update: Sandra Clemons and husband, Bill, were targeted by shady durable medical equipment companies.

Bill was sent useless knee and back braces. They’re cheaply made with a one size fits all adjustment.

The equipment arrived in the mail, right after Bill received a phone call from a medical device company.

“The questions were, ‘Do you have problems with your knees?’” Sandra recalled.  “’Do you have some problems with your back?’ And he answered both, ‘Yes.’”

The company reached out, unsolicited, and then billed Medicare for the balance.

Uncle Sam is the one footing the bill.

Federal investigators have now caught on, alleging a sophisticated network of scam companies targeted seniors with joint trouble and exploited the Medicare system.

Jerry Kueck's mother-in-law is also a victim.

“This has got several braces, none of which she needs,” he said.

Federal court filings show suppliers paid kickbacks to licensed doctors working with shady telemedicine companies to fish for victims.

The scammers work out of international call centers cold-calling seniors and the disabled, in some cases targeting them through television and radio ads.

A rep from a call center in Jamaica kept telling us a real doctor prescribed the braces for Jerry’s mother-in-law, but she wouldn’t tell us his name or where he practices.

“I do apologize, sir, I am not at liberty to give you that information.”

Brace yourself! This Medicare fraud ring cost taxpayers over one billion dollars.

And get this! The Clemons were sent braces by not one company, but two!

That means these companies billed Medicare again, and again, for equipment that doesn't help, and yes they've tried to return their stuff.

Both companies, targeted in the Federal investigation, are now out of business.

Sandra hates to just toss the braces in the garbage.

Great news! We reached out to the Salvation Army, and they want to help Sandra repurpose the medical equipment for Oklahomans who have no other options.

The In Your Corner bottom line, if you get a call about "free" braces paid for by Medicare, hang up the phone ASAP!

File a complaint with Medicare Fraud Hotline.

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Federal investigation was nicknamed “Operation Brace Yourself."

On Tuesday, United States Attorney Sherri Lydon called it one of the largest Medicare fraud schemes in our nation’s history.

Among those charged are executives from medical equipment companies, and doctors accused of writing fake prescriptions for medical supplies.

The scheme fueled by illegal kickbacks and bribes targeting seniors right here in Oklahoma.

Jerry Kueck's mother-in-law has memory loss and received multiple shipments of braces from medical supply companies in New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania, some of the same states at the center of this healthcare fraud sweep.

Last fall, our In Your Corner investigation led us to a call center in Jamaica.

The rep told us Jerry’s mother-in-law saw an ad for the “free” braces on her TV.

“[She] called the number, spoke to a doctor about the pain she was feeling, [and] the prescription was written and sent to our facility."

We know the role of these international call centers was to "up sell" seniors on medical devices they didn't need.

Once they got the patient's Medicare coverage, they would then patch them through to a tele-medicine company for the over the phone doctor consultation.

The rep from Jamaica kept telling us a real doctor prescribed the braces for Jerry’s mother-in-law, but she wouldn’t tell us his name or where he practices.

"I do apologize sir, I am not at liberty to give you that information."

Federal Agents said these doctors would typically write prescriptions for braces the patients wouldn't need or want.

“So these doctors are alleged to be paid kickbacks in order to write these prescription or orders for this equipment,” said HHS Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell. “And they're not seeing these patients, they may be talking to them over the phone but these conversations are minimal at best.”

Jerry told the In Your Corner team his mother-in-law thought she was talking to Medicare the whole time.

“She said, ‘But they're free.’ I said, ‘Well they’re free to you, but Medicare got billed, so somebody's paying for it.”

Somebody's paying alright.

Medicare paid out close to a billion dollars for the unnecessary medical equipment, but really we the taxpayers are footing the bill by paying higher health care premiums.

The In Your Corner bottom line:

  • The best way to avoid this fraud is by educating our seniors.
  • If you have a Medicare number, never share it over the phone, unless it's with someone you trust.
  • If you suspect you are the victim of Medicare fraud, report it to Medicare's fraud hotline.
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