Powered wheelchair fraud: Another example of Medicare abuse


Chances are you’ve seen a commercial for powered wheelchairs within the last decade.

In each, the goal is to sell you on the idea that a powered wheelchair will help improve your mobility and sense of independence as you progress through your retirement years.

A big part of the sales pitch is that you can qualify to buy the product under your Medicare Part B coverage for little or no money if you get a prescription from your doctor proving you’re having a hard time getting around your home and there’s a medical reason for you to have the device.

In reality, purchasing these wheelchairs has been one of the biggest abuses of Medicare in years; individuals who do not need them have used their federal health benefits to purchase thousands.

Who’s on the hook for these purchases? As a taxpayer, you are.

An article in the Washington Post earlier this summer spotlighted the rampant abuse of the system.

Here’s how it typically worked: someone established themselves as a medical supply company, found seniors on Medicare in their communities and promised powered wheelchairs for them (even if they didn’t need them). The companies would then bill Medicare and pocket the difference between the actual cost of the chair and what Medicare paid out. In many cases, it was six months before the system picked up on whether the purchase was for a medically legitimate reason and, by that time, Medicare had already sent the payment out. The article also said that in the last 15 years, 2.7 million people purchased powered wheelchairs and scooters using their Medicare Part B benefits. The cost to you and me: $8.2 billion.

Today, the feds are doing a much better job of cracking down on these abuses through better electronic monitoring of the Medicare billing process. Once these abuses are caught, federal prosecutors can then pursue fraud charges against those responsible and hold them accountable for cheating the system, including prison time and recovery of those Medicare funds.

No doubt, powered wheelchairs have been a benefit to people who really need them. When it comes to a situation where criminals try to scam the system to provide wheelchairs to people who have no medical reason for them, it’s an abuse of our health care system and a rip-off for the taxpayer that must be stopped. We have made a lot of progress toward that end and will continue to pursue fraud cases of this type.

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Joe Rossi
J. Joseph Rossi is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the Notre Dame Law School. He served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, including Operation Desert Storm. Following law school, Joe practiced with a large firm in Grand Rapids and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids for eight years, where he evaluated every Qui Tam, or False Claims Act, case filed in West Michigan. Joe joined Drew Cooper & Anding in Grand Rapids in 2010 and formed one of the region’s first Qui Tam whistleblower practices to represent private citizens who sue to recover taxpayer money taken by fraud. He also has extensive litigation experience in Michigan state courts. Follow him on Twitter for whistleblower news @whistleblowermi.