Medical exams with doctors by phone or video hookup are bringing decent, affordable care to millions of people. Seniors with limited mobility or living in isolated rural communities can instantly reach caring doctors for needed tests and exams paid for by Medicare or other health insurers.
Telemedicine is changing healthcare for the better. It’s changing insurance fraud for the worse.
Crime rings are chasing insurance money with increasingly aggressive telemed scams that are stealing billions of taxpayer dollars around the U.S. The ruses aim especially at seniors — peddling unneeded back braces, fake DNA tests and other useless health benefits falsely charged to their Medicare accounts. The stolen insurance money is reaching record levels, and rising.
Part of $1.2-billion looting
Which leads to telemed mogul Lester Stockett. The Medellin, Columbia man ran an international network of telemedicine firms and call centers that recruited seniors into one of the largest accused health-fraud crime rings ever — a $1.2-billion looting of Medicare. Stockett was responsible for $424 million of the charged ring’s taxpayer losses.
His crime is an urgent alert for seniors to be wary of high-pressure phone sales pitches and medical exams for free medical benefits that aren’t so free after all.
Recruiters, brace suppliers and others kissed Stockett’s imperial ring with bribes so corrupt doctors on his payroll could prescribe useless braces and loot the Medicare money that fattened everyone’s bank accounts.
Stockett’s telemed firms operated under the umbrella name Video Doctor Network. His spiderweb of call centers phoned Medicare seniors from boiler rooms in the Philippines and across Latin America. They reached hundreds of thousands of seniors, many who were disabled. Stockett sold them false hope for a better life.
Doctors gave bogus phone exams
His phone callers convinced the seniors to accept free arm, back and neck braces — whether or not the seniors needed the equipment.
The call centers next transferred the trusting seniors to Stockett’s telemedicine firms for for bogus phone exams by corrupt doctors he’d bribed.
The exams were brief, and the doctors barely asked about the seniors’ real medical conditions. The doctors then prescribed overpriced braces for patients they’d never met and didn’t know. It was irrelevant whether the seniors even needed the braces.
Medical equipment firms shipped the braces off to the seniors, billed their Medicare accounts, and paid bribes to the doctors for their patient exams. The braces often were low-priced Chinese-made equipment billed at inflated prices to Medicare.
In many cases, doctors on his payroll never even bothered to tele-examine seniors. Nor did patients often receive braces — yet their Medicare accounts were billed anyway, the feds say.
Dozens federally charged
The stolen taxpayer money was laundered overseas, and used to buy expensive cars, yachts and luxury real estate.
Dozens of suspects are federally charged. Stockett already took a fall. He pled guilty in New Jersey, and will sentenced in December.
“The extent of Mr. Stockett’s fraud and money laundering literally knew no bounds …” adds Gregory Ehrie, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office. “They stole precious federal funds earmarked to assist the elderly. His admission today should resonate with anyone who is committing fraud against the U.S. government — the FBI will find you and your criminal efforts will not pay off.”
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition