How the COVID Pandemic Created Opportunity for Fraudsters
Almost two years ago, the COVID 19 pandemic emerged, and the world entered an unprecedented and unpredictable era. We’ve gone from bustling cities to empty highways, from quarantining to safely gathering, and from hopeful optimism to discouraging realism. While our governments have been scrambling to dictate protocol in uncharted territory, fraudsters have seized new opportunities to cash in.
In November of 2021, a federal grand jury indicted an Arkansas man with health care fraud in a false billing scheme. Billy Joe Taylor owned and/or managed multiple diagnostic testing laboratories. The labs conducted multiple clinical services, including urine drug tests, respiratory illness tests, and COVID-19 tests. According to court documents, Taylor illegally obtained personal information of unknowing patients, and submitted more than $100 Million in false claims to Medicare. The claims were intended to pay for diagnostic tests that were never ordered nor conducted. He used his $100 Million in proceeds to purchase luxury cars, real estate, and other high-priced items. He is currently charged with 16 counts of health care fraud and has been taken into custody by U.S. Marshals.
When vaccinations became widely available in the spring of 2021, many public venues began requiring proof of vaccination to enter, in hopes that the vaccinated could safely gather. Unfortunately, Juli A. Mazi a homeopathic practitioner of Napa, California ignored science, and endangered the lives of hundreds of people. Mazi has been charged with providing patients with an unregulated “homeoprophylaxis immunization pellet”, along with a fake COVID-19 vaccination record card. She promised the pellet would develop COVID-19 antibodies. Some of the buyers included parents required to provide their children’s schools with vaccination proof. Mazi is currently awaiting trial.
Remote health services between patients and doctors have played a significant role in the last two years. Telehealth, or telemedicine, provided services to patients via phone or video calls during a time where many were not leaving their houses. The U.S. government created a temporary COVID-19 policy in which telehealth waivers were given to practitioners providing remote services to Medicare patients. While the waivers offered a safe way for patients and doctors to interact, Florida diagnostic lab owner Leonel Palatnik found a way to exploit this policy for his own gain. In September of 2021, he gave co-conspiring telehealth provider Michael Stein an opportunity to bill for patient consultations that never took place. In return, Stein authorized thousands of medically unnecessary genetic testing orders. Payments for these orders were sent to Palatnik. Together, Stein and Palatnik pulled in $73 million from the conspiracy. They are currently awaiting trial.
When it comes to fraud, pandemic-related cases have grown into a category of their own. On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the new COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task in order to combat and prevent this type of fraud. The Department of Justice and its partner agencies are working hard to hold hundreds of fraudsters accountable. To report suspected fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF).
For a free consultation concerning Health Care Fraud, contact us today!