The unwanted COVID-19 tests arriving at Medicare recipients' homes looks more and more like a national fraud scheme.
An ABC11 Troubleshooter investigation first uncovered these unwanted COVID-19 tests in early May. Since that report aired, more people in the Triangle and across the country have come forward.
Up until May 11th, Medicare coverage for at-home COVID-19 tests allowed for up to eight tests a month. But many of these Medicare recipients report never having requested any tests and also receiving more than the eight allowed.
"I've never requested any of those. None of them," Raleigh resident Rebecca Reckard said. She showed Troubleshooter Diane Wilson all of the tests she received from different companies, labs and doctors all over the country.
When she checked her Medicare statements, she found that Medicare paid $94.06 for each set of eight tests, despite Reckard saying she didn't order or want these tests.
"Although it's not impacting me directly, it is indirectly impacting me because it's my taxpayer dollars that are paying for this ultimately," Reckard added. She reported the apparent fraud to Medicare. "The two physicians that are on here, I have no clue who they are, and then the labs that are sending me the kits -- I mean, I haven't contacted those labs to send me those kits."
Besides in the Triangle, Wilson heard from Medicare recipients all over the country, including Bob Werts in Florida.
"It didn't become a curious thing about this until a third batch of these showed up," Werts said. After seeing ABC11's investigation he realized there was a problem as he continued to get more tests in the mail. "We had no need for them, neither one of us were sick, we hadn't seen a doctor about this, they just showed up. It annoys me that somebody is paying for it, probably me eventually, or you."
Pennsylvania residents Janet Bergman and David Hofeld found themselves asking the same thing.
"Four different prescriptions sent and they were paid for all four. So between Janet and I were received $470 worth of tests," Hofeld said.
"Well Medicare was billed that and they paid it," Bergman said.
When Berman got a hold of one of the companies that sent the COVID tests, "They said you must have said yes when you answered the phone and I said we don't even answer the phone when it comes to junk calls."
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Bergman said some of the tests Medicare paid for, she nor Hofeld got in the mail.
"I mean something awful is going on," she said.
Wilson tried to get in touch with more than 10 companies, labs and doctors based all over the country that sent the unwanted tests. Medicare paid for all of them. Many of the numbers were disconnected that Wilson called.
When Wilson's call did go through, she either got an automated message about how to opt out of the testing program or if she reached someone from the company, the representative said they would look into it but did not get back to Wilson.
North Carolina's Medicare Patrol Office said it is also receiving complaints from consumers.
"I would always be concerned if someone used your Medicare number to receive services," Medicare Patrol Office Director Kevin Robertson said.
Robertson said his team is helping consumers who were charged for unwanted tests to file an appeal with Medicare.
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"So if we're paying for something now that should not be serviced like the test kits from these fake companies then we may not have future funding for our Medicare providers for us to be able to have those benefit exports. So it's a smart thing to keep costs down for health insurance," Robertson said.
If you did not order the tests, you should report the apparent fraud to Medicare.
"It matters a lot, because we're all paying for Medicare, I mean, as you and I are both working now, you know we're paying into the Medicare system to hopefully when we retire, there will be those services there for us, but we're paying for the individuals who are already retired. So we want to help keep the cost down for Medicare," Robertson said.
When Wilson asked The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the unwanted tests, a representative confirmed the agency has received complaints, but the number represents a small portion of people with Medicare that have received these tests.
The representative adds they are investigating instances of potential abuse, and if you received tests you did not order, you should report the fraud to Medicare.
"People with Medicare who receive COVID-19 test kits they did not order should call (800) MEDICARE (800-633-4227) and report it. Consumers with any type of insurance can report suspected fraud by contacting the Health & Human Services (HHS) fraud hotline at: (800) 447-8477 (1-800-HHS-Tips)."
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When it comes to the Medicare recipients like Reckard, while she is upset she's now stuck with dozens of unwanted COVID tests and the taxpayer dollar waste, she's even more worried about continued fraud.
"The main thing I hope for is that I don't have any other issues with my Medicare number floating around," she said. Her worries became a reality this week as she just got a Medicare statement for charges of glucose monitoring kits; she is not diabetic.
She said she will now be requesting a new Medicare number.
This is why it's so important if you got these COVID tests and did not request them, report the fraud to Medicare, and also check your Medicare statements to look for other fraud. If you feel your Medicare number is in the wrong hands, you can request a new one.