TAMPA, Fla. — America's COVID-19 public health emergency is finally coming to an end, but not before what appears to be a final attempt by scammers to use COVID-19 test kits to exploit the elderly at the expense of taxpayers.
"Each box has two tests in it. So, I've got 40 tests sitting here that I haven’t ever used," explained Diane Robinson, whose 91-year-old father is on Medicare.
Over the past few months, nearly two dozen boxes of COVID-19 test kits have arrived at her father's home in Palm Beach County.
"We don't want these things, don't need them, didn't ask for them," her father, Norman, told us recently.
After questioning the shipments, the savvy senior asked his daughter to look into them. When she started dissecting his Medicare billing statements, she found her father's unwanted COVID-19 tests were ordered by a pain doctor in another state.
"The doctor is in New Jersey, and we live in Florida," Robinson said. "I'm not taking my 91-year-old father to a doctor in New Jersey."
And what's supposed to be free over-the-counter tests provided by the government costs Medicare $94 each, according to the billing statements she showed us.
"I think it's a shame. It's sad," Robinson said.
She is now concerned her father's Medicare information is in the hand of scammers using his personal medical information to defraud the government.
Shomy Easow also contacted us recently after several boxes of tests were shipped to his Tampa Bay home and addressed to his 74-year-old mom, who is also on Medicare and also never ordered or requested any COVID tests.
"The third one came and I'm like, 'This is not right,'" Easow said. "There's no need for all this testing, and they're coming from different companies."
In fact, moments after we left his home, Easow called us to let us know another shipment of tests had just arrived.
It's no secret the pandemic has fueled a range of new schemes.
Last summer, just months after the feds rolled out its program offering Medicare recipients up to eight free COVID tests per month, the Federal Trade Commission issued an alert, warning how Medicare recipients were being targeted by scammers using COVID tests to defraud Medicare.
Last month, as part of a nationwide crackdown on COVID fraud, the Department of Justice announced criminal charges against 18 people across the country for COVID-related fraud. Dr. Latresia Wilson, an Ocala emergency room doctor, was among those indicted.
According to the indictment, Wilson, along with a marketer in Florida, were behind a multi-million COVID testing scam, Department of Health & Human Services Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Scott Lampert described in a video released by the department.
"One defendant purchased Medicare numbers to bill federal health programs for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests kits, ultimately submitting over $8.4 million in claims to Medicare," Lampert said during the announcement.
Calls and emails to Wilson have not been returned.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would not make anyone available for an on-camera interview but in an emailed response to our questions about safeguards CMS put into place before rolling out the fast-tracked program.
A spokesperson from CMS said those safeguards included:
- limiting the number of test kits to eight per month
- requiring patients must request them
CMS, however, did not prohibit participating pharmacies and health care providers from automatically refilling them each month.
Which may be what's happening to the families we spoke with.
They didn't order these tests. They didn't want them, but they keep getting them while the rest of us keep footing the bill.
"Frankly, I'm just absolutely crazy wondering why in the world people would do something like this to somebody like me who doesn't have a need for it and didn't ask for it," Norman said.
As part of the end to the public health emergency on May 11, Medicare will stop paying for these free tests, so that should stop unsolicited shipments from going out.
As a reminder, consumers should never give out any personal information, including Medicare numbers, to anyone they don't know.
Medicare recipients are also advised to check their Medicare billing statements for payments that don't make sense. If you get one of these tests or any medical product you didn't want or order, you can report it by contacting your local senior patrol office at 1-800-963-5337 or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.
Click here for more information on COVID-19-related scams, including test kits.