The federal agency that administers Medicare acknowledged to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the government often overpays for patient wheelchairs due to a quirk in its rules.
Ordinary wheelchairs sell for $100 to $350, but Medicare cannot reimburse patients who buy the chairs; it can only pay for rentals (for up to 13 months), for $40 to $135 a month.
A 2009 audit found that Medicare allowed up to $7,215 for oxygen dispensers that were available for sale for $587 and $4,018 for a power wheelchair that cost suppliers $1,048.
A Wall Street Journal investigation turned up instances of physical-therapy doctors earning millions of dollars a year in Medicare payments by “treating” nonexistent patients or by over treating real patients or by providing controversial “treatments” that other therapists say are useless.
Describing the work of hard-partying, spike-haired Miami Beach doctor Christopher Wayne, one former physical-therapy association official likened Wayne’s expensive “treatment” to “back rubs.”
Medicare law requires prompt payment to doctors but prevents the public release of doctors’ billing records — even if all patient identification is hidden — thus ensuring that any Medicare abuses can only be uncovered by a small team of federal investigators and not by the press unless, as the Wall Street Journal did, they investigate patient by patient.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa Fla. 33679 or go to www.newsoftheweird.com.)