Beware Of Wheelchair Scam

The federal government is trying to put the brakes on what's described as the fastest-moving scam in Medicare. That's the filing of fraudulent claims for power wheelchairs. Health and Human Services officials say taxpayers are being taken for a ride, and the cost is in the tens of millions.  The number of Medicare beneficiaries with at least one claim for a motorized wheelchair is soaring, but it appears that a lot of those claims aren't legit, and some of those chairs don't exist. Sometimes the Medicare client is in on the scam, as are doctors who write bogus prescriptions. Other times, equipment suppliers get a patient's Medicare ID number and submit a phony claim. Officials say 50 investigations are under way in nearly two-dozen states where $167 million in fraudulent power wheelchair claims have been identified. Medicare's crackdown, called Operation Wheeler Dealer, has recovered about a third of that. Investigators are focusing on Texas and three other states. They say fraud has been especially bad in the Houston area. Federal investigators there will personally review all payments for motorized wheelchairs.  Here in East Texas, Kay Robinson with the Better Business Bureau says there have been several cases where senior citizens are being taken to seminars, where they are treated to lunch and told they can get a free power scooter, whether they need one or not.  The scammers are then filing Medicare claims for power wheelchairs, which can cost thousands more.  Because a power wheelchair claim is on their record, they cannot file for one later in life.  Since a doctors prescription is needed to file a claim, Robinson advises area residents to deal directly with their personal physician.