Part of the Wuhan coronavirus stimulus relief package – known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – included sending $30 billion to the majority of health care providers that successfully billed Medicare last year. The goal was to get out money as quickly as possible to help health care providers who were struggling. But part of the speed also meant some vetting failed to take place. According to Reuters, some health care providers who are undergoing civil or criminal fraud investigations received stimulus funds.
The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that funds were sent to all providers who submitted claims to Medicare unless they had already been excluded.
When providers receive funds, they were asked to sign a document confirming that they have or will be treating patients who have the Wuhan coronavirus. Providers who failed to respond within 30 days made the assumption that the providers accepted the government's terms and conditions. Should a provider not qualify for the stimulus funds, HHS said it “has mechanisms in place to recoup funds and address fraudulent activity.”
The process was much different than small business owners who had to apply for funding from the CARES Act. According to Reuters, the provider's stimulus "showed up as a surprise in the bank accounts of many healthcare providers."
Attorneys, however, have warned their clients not to spend the money and be prepared to return it.
At least one former prosecutor, Paul Pelletier, took issue with the government's move.
“If fraudulent providers, either convicted or under investigation, are receiving CARES Act bail-outs automatically, without any vetting, then shame on the government,” Pelletier said.
Defense attorneys argue that those who are under investigation are not disqualified from receiving funds because they are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Providers who are undergoing criminal health care charges typically stop billing Medicare as part of their bond agreements.
According to Reuters, doctors who had their medical licenses revoked or licenses to prescribe highly addictive drugs can also receive stimulus funds.
It remains unclear what percentage of the $30 billion went to these providers. HHS said funds went to more than 315,000 billing organizations and reached over 1.5 million health care providers.
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