When Covid first began to spread it was difficult for patients to obtain Covid tests without going to an emergency room. When tests first became widely available there were drive-through testing centers with lines that snaked for blocks. When my wife began to feel ill in January of 2021, I made her an appointment for a Covid test at a Walmart Neighborhood Market pharmacy. The soonest appointment available was eight days away. We pulled up to the drive-through window and a pharmacy technician gave us the sealed swab and instructed my wife how to use it. My wife sealed it in the appropriate bag and deposited it in an adjacent laboratory collection box outside the drive-through. The results were relayed to us by phone a day or two later.
As the pandemic wore on at-home tests became available in the Spring of 2021. As an aside, a test was ready a year earlier in the pandemic (Spring 2020) but the FDA in its infinite wisdom decided it wasn’t quite good enough. As a result, some Americans likely died when they were infected by others who didn’t realize those sniffles were Covid, not just allergies or a cold. However, I digress.
In the Winter of 2021 the Biden Administration purchased 1 billion Covid tests to distribute to Americans for free. You had to order them. We ordered some and still have several unused Covid tests in our medicine cabinet. That was two years ago when Covid was much worse than it is today. At the time a Spring surge was spreading across the United States. Fast forward two years and Covid is no longer a threat. You may remember the Winter of 2023 as the Covid Surge That Didn’t Happen. Health officials were surprised and relieved that the expected cold weather surge was a no-show. Indeed, the Covid-19 public health emergency officially expired on May 11, 2023.
Not everyone who received tests in the mail actually ordered them, however. As recently as May 2023 many seniors received unneeded Covid at-home test kits in the mail. Yes, in the last week or so (and also long before that). The unsolicited test kits were sent by an unknown Florida company, which then billed Medicare for them.
With the Covid public health emergency officially ending testing kits were probably being liquidated for pennies on the dollar. It’s an easy scam: Just send the tests to seniors and bill Medicare. Then hope nobody questions the arrival of tests nobody needed or ordered. This type of Medicare fraud happens all the time.
Medicare coverage for at-home COVID-19 tests ended last week, but the scams spawned by the temporary pandemic benefit could have lingering consequences for seniors.
Medicare advocates around the country who track fraud noticed an eleventh-hour rise in complaints from beneficiaries who received tests – sometimes by the dozen – that they never requested. It’s a signal that someone may have been using, and could continue to use, seniors’ Medicare information to improperly bill the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General has received complaints from around the country about unsolicited tests being billed to Medicare, said a top investigator. Earlier this year, the office posted a fraud warning on its website, urging consumers to report this and other covid-related scams.
You can buy seniors’ Medicare numbers off the dark web. With these numbers you can commit all manner of fraud. Besides unneeded test kits, you can bill for services never provided. You can even call seniors and offer them cheap medical supplies for free, later billed to Medicare for thousands of dollars.
Experts are speculating the most recent Covid testing fraud is a harbinger of more fraud to come. I don’t know why this would be any different than other types of Medicare fraud that has been occurring for decades. Congress forces Medicare to pay all claims quickly and then chase fraud after-the-fact. Of course, they don’t recover many pilfered funds that way. Nor does it reduce the incentive to commit Medicare fraud. It’s easy to steal from federal health care programs because they’re required to pay upfront and there aren’t enough resources spent on enforcement.