“What a shame,” said my eighty eight year old Armenian grandmother, shaking her head with sorrow, and I had to agree. “US officials charge 73 people, mostly Armenians, over a massive fraud against the country’s medical insurance system,” read the BBC headline.
A (mostly) Armenian crime syndicate set up 115 sham clinics in the United States, using real doctors’ names and real patient information, stolen from different systems, to generate false Medicare claims.
Dermatologists examined hearts. ENT doctors performed pregnancy ultrasounds. (And Medicare beneficiaries, it must be noted, are usually past child-bearing age.)
At some point, $35 million later, someone noticed the discrepancies. How broken is our health care payment system that an interstate, international mafia could steal $35 million from US taxpayers via false Medicare claims? How broken is our health care payment systems than an upstart Armenian mafia would even decide that Medicare should become the new black market, filled with low-hanging fruitful ways to make an easy buck? Whatever gave them the idea?
Perhaps they learned from low-level not-quite-gangsters racketeering their way to easy profits—the real doctors in real storefront clinics seeing real patients, for example, who happen to have high blood pressure– performing EKGs every three months for no good medical reason. Should we call it a scam when real doctors refer real patients to the imaging sites down the road in which the doctors have partial ownership, to perform imaging studies for no strong medical indication? How might this contribute to a “massive fraud” of medical overutilization?
The Armenian Medicare Mafia brings shame to my ethnicity. Doctors who order for their own financial gain, I believe, bring shame to my profession.
Three cheers for shame-free doctoring! Let us give patients what patients need, no less and certainly no more.
Kohar Jones is a family physician who blogs at Progress Notes.
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