The government has spent $8.2 billion to buy wheelchairs and scooters for 2.7 million people over the last 15 years, and has no idea how many of those people actually needed them.
According to a Washington Post report, scammers spent years taking advantage of a loophole within Medicare that paid out insurance claims without first seeing if it made any sense to deliver the product or service.
Scammers often were known to just report to the government that a product or service was being delivered, without actually delivering it. But as the Post said, "A lot of the time, Medicare was fooled. The government paid."
But in many cases, wheelchairs were forced onto consumers who said they didn't want them. In a recent trial against one of the Medicare scammers, a 73-year old witness said he argued he didn't need the wheelchair, but that a recruiter told him "they were giving the chairs away."
According to the Post, other seniors were collected and examined, and the result was motorized chairs for all.
In recent years, the Obama administration has argued in favor of requiring prepayment or early review of all requests for powered wheelchairs in order to help avoid this fraud.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has also said more needs to be done to rein in waste at Medicare. Coburn, who is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress, has said that even aside from the question of eligibility, Medicare has paid up to $800 to rent a wheelchair that it could buy for $350.
The Post said that in 1994, just one in 9,000 Medicare beneficiaries had a new wheelchair. By 2002, it was one in 242.