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Medicare paid millions to dead patients, illegal immigrants, probe finds

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2013

Medicare paid $23 million for dead patients in 2011 and $29 million for drug benefits for illegal immigrants from 2009 to 2011, according to a report Thursday from the Health and Human Services inspector general.

The investigators said Medicare has safeguards to try to stop payments to dead patients, but it still ended up sending out the $23 million anyway.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) — the same agency that is struggling to fix the broken Obamacare website — acknowledged the problems and said it will try to take steps to fix them.

"We agree that in cases where the information indicates an individual is not lawfully present in the United States, that individual should not be permitted to enroll or to remain enrolled in a Part D plan during the period where he or she is not eligible to receive federal benefits," Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of CMS, said in response to the report about illegal immigrants getting benefits.

The payouts aren't large — they amount to just a fraction of a percent of what Medicare pays each year in benefits. Still, the investigators said the agency should take steps to crack down.

In one of its reports the inspector general said 4,139 illegal immigrants were able to make 279,056 drug benefit claims.

The investigators said that while CMS has policies to prevent illegal immigrants from getting most Medicare benefits, it didn't have such a policy for the prescription drug program, which was added under President George W. Bush and expanded by President Obama's health law.

As for dead patients collecting benefits, the investigators said the problems were often related to missing or incorrect dates of death.

Dead doctors also were paid $25 million over a three-year period.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said the report was worrying because CMS had been warned of the problems five years earlier.

"Every individual wrongfully awarded benefits, be it the deceased or undocumented, diverts scarce resources away from those who need it most," he said.

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