Categories
Business government

Confidentiality Cloaks Medicare Fraud

Under a three-decade-old court decision protecting physician privacy, Medicare is prohibited from releasing to the public details of doctors’ billings.

Any Porthole in a Storm

Medicare costs are one budget item that needs to be reigned in. Especially when fraud by doctors and insurance brokers is part of the cause. Case in point:

There are plenty of reasons why Medicare often fails to stop questionable payments up front. To protect law-abiding doctors and hospitals—the vast majority—Medicare is required to pay nearly everybody within 30 days. Medicare says it is reluctant to suspend payments to providers who may have made honest mistakes, out of concern that beneficiaries might go without needed treatment. Law-enforcement agencies and Medicare contractors, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Medicare fraud cases, can’t investigate and prosecute them all. Sometimes, prosecutors and investigators ask Medicare to keep paying so as not to tip off targets of an investigation.

But a central problem is that Medicare hasn’t fully exploited its most valuable resource: its claims database, a computerized record of every claim submitted and every dollar paid out.

“That’s really the crux of the issue,” said Kimberly Brandt, who led Medicare’s antifraud efforts from 2004 through June of this year. She said the program is “definitely on the right path” to making better use of its database, “but it’s not going to be a flip of the switch or an easy transition.”

The Wall Street Journal originally identified Dr. Wayne and the other medical providers discussed in this article through a Medicare database that is much more limited than the one available to fraud investigators. The database, obtained in conjunction with the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, contains records only through 2008, and includes the claims of just 5% of randomly selected Medicare beneficiaries.

Under a three-decade-old court decision protecting physician privacy, Medicare is prohibited from releasing to the public details of doctors’ billings. The Journal agreed not to publish individual physician billing information obtained solely through the database as part of its arrangement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. Billing figures for doctors named in this article were obtained from the providers themselves or from others familiar with their businesses.

(click to continue reading Confidentiality Cloaks Medicare Abuse – WSJ.com.)

Classless Society

Mark Schoofs and Maurice Tamman did find a few questionable cases, such as:

Christopher G. Wayne doesn’t look like a typical family-practice doctor. Known to admirers as the “Rock Doc,” he wears his hair spiked, punk style, and festoons himself with chains, bangles and leather bracelets.

He uses his upscale Miami Beach home as a production studio for Playboy photo spreads, and his MySpace page shows him posing with celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

There’s something else about Dr. Wayne that doesn’t resemble a normal family-practice doctor: his earnings from Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly and disabled. Dr. Wayne took in more than $1.2 million from Medicare in 2008, according to a person familiar with the matter, a large portion of it from physical therapy. That’s more than 24 times the Medicare income of the average family doctor, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare-claims data.

•A physical therapist in Brooklyn who billed for so much therapy—more than $2.5 million in 2008 alone—that it would have been virtually impossible for him to have performed it all within state and Medicare guidelines, fraud experts say. Medicare has continued to pay him, shelling out nearly a million dollars through July of this year.

•A second doctor in Florida who pocketed more than $1.8 million from Medicare in 2007, much of it from physical therapy on patients with an extremely rare condition. Even after a Medicare antifraud contractor flagged this doctor, the agency paid him at least $6.7 million over more than two years.

•A Houston doctor whose Medicare billing under her provider number spiked from zero to more than $11.6 million in less than a year. At the time, this doctor was being investigated for misconduct in a company owned by a Nigerian with an alleged history of fraud.

Or this guy

One Florida physician—not Dr. Wayne—made almost all his money from physical therapy, according to the Journal’s analysis of the 5% database. According to separate billing totals reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, this internal-medicine doctor took home more than $8.1 million from Medicare from 2007 through 2009.

The Journal cannot name this doctor because the paper was able to learn a crucial piece of information about his practice—the type of disorder he billed for—only from the database, not from any other source.

From 2006 through 2008, more than 40% of this doctor’s patients in the database were described as suffering from brachial neuritis. That’s a rare nerve-and-muscle condition estimated to occur in about three out of every 100,000 Americans. In 2008, the Florida doctor earned at least 25% more from brachial neuritis patients than any other provider, according to the Journal’s database analysis.

Read the rest of this long article, and tell me what the solution is, other than making this data publicly available (website with patient information redacted, perhaps?)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.