- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Medicare paid for health services in 1998 and 1999 for nearly 50 individuals who had been deported from the United States, according to a new report that shows the agency doesn't have checks in place to prevent those kinds of claims.
Janet Rehnquist, inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Medicare paid out $688,933 in those two years for fee-for-service benefits provided to 43 deported individuals. Medicare also paid $147,778 to managed care organizations for care for six deportees.
Several of those individuals were ordered deported because of convictions for drug offenses, extortion and attempted murder.
The Medicare errors are the latest example of a federal agency unable to track the whereabouts of illegals. Three weeks ago, a flight school in Florida received visa approvals from the Immigration and Naturalization Service for two of the terrorists who piloted the jetliners used in the September 11 attacks.
The inspector general said the number of cases of erroneous payments isn't "an extensive problem" given the 40 million participants in Medicare. Still, she found that 1,072 Medicare beneficiaries have been deported, meaning improper benefits were paid in almost 5 percent of those cases.
Miss Rehnquist said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wasn't using "readily available" information to check benefit claims, and she said unless CMS takes action, "future payments made on behalf of deported individuals will not only happen, but may increase."
Those comments did not sit well with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who requested the Medicare report.
"We don't have money to waste on Medicare benefits for people who are in the country illegally," said Mr. Grassley, who requested the audit last year when he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "It's especially shocking that some of these improper payments went to convicted criminals. Medicare is treating thugs who have been booted out of the country."
Mr. Grassley has asked for a series of reviews of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to see how many ineligible individuals are receiving benefits, and yesterday's report is the first to be released.
Overall, Medicare made $12.1 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2001, or about 6.3 percent of total fee-for-service payments, the inspector general said in a report released last month. Still, that's about half the 13.8 percent error rate Medicare had in fiscal 1996.
A spokeswoman for CMS said she couldn't comment on the new report or on whether the center has taken steps to address the problem. But in his official response, Thomas A. Scully, the CMS administrator, did not dispute the findings and said they will follow the inspector general's recommendations. Mr. Scully also promised to review the payments already made to managed care organizations and try to collect on the overpayments.
INS records showed that some of the deportees had returned to the United States and may have received Medicare services while in the country illegally. Another potential is that someone is using a deported individual's Medicare card to fraudulently receive Medicare benefits.
The report also shows that in four of the six managed care cases the individuals applied for coverage or changed to different plans after they had been deported. Four of the six were still enrolled in plans as of December 1999, when the investigation ended, even though they had failed to pay their premiums that totaled up to several thousand dollars.

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