Since 1999, Medicare has spent $8.2 billion on power wheelchairs and scooters for 2.7 million people, an unknown portion of which was paid to scammers, says The Washington Post.
The scam shows a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud, says the Post.
Fraud works so often because Congress designed the program to be fast and generous and because Medicare bureaucrats have been slow to recognize scams and use their powers to stop them, says the Post.
But Medicare now has put in place changes to combat the wheelchair scam, including the use of competitive-bidding processes to lower its payments for wheelchairs, says the Post.
And Medicare has required wheelchairs to be given out on a rent-to-own basis, instead of paid for upfront, allowing more time to check if the claim was phony.
The government last year cut off funding for the Scooter Store, famous for those ads saying, "Your power chair will be paid in full.” The Scooter Store shut down last fall, the Post says.
The next big scam apparently depends on where you live. In Brooklyn, scammers bill Medicare for a $500 custom-made orthotic insole — but give the patient a $30 Dr. Scholl’s, says the Post.
The wheelchair article is part of the Post's series on "failures at the heart of troubled federal systems."