July 13, 2011 10:45AM

‘The Government Would Really Like for You to Have a Wheelchair’

USA Today’s Kelly Kennedy is going to town on Medicare & Medicaid fraud. Today, she writes:

In California, as English‐​as‐​a‐​second‐​language Medicare recipients line up for other services, a person will approach them in line and “They’ll say, ‘The government would really like for you to have a wheelchair,’ ” said Julie Schoen, director of special projects for California’s Senior Medicare Patrol. Then, she said, the scammer will take the Medicare recipient to a “clinic” for an exam.

The patient will often receive a wheelchair, but not a motorized wheelchair worth about $3,600 for which Medicare will be billed, Schoen said…

“It’s a big problem,” Schoen said. “The scammers really know how to do it well, but the guy with Parkinson’s who needs a chair has to fight for it.”…

In South Dakota, people fall victim to television ads, said Melissa Wood, program director for Senior Medicare Patrol in South Dakota. The ads show seniors using electric wheelchairs to fish or visit a shopping mall, and tell them that, as Medicare recipients, they qualify for free.

“The people have no idea it’s fraudulent,” Wood said. “I think in the past year or so, it’s picked up because of all the advertisements.”

The scammers also collect people’s Medicare numbers, which they then use fraudulently or sell to another company to use, Wood said.

But never fear. Your trusty public servants are on the job:

The federal government is cracking down on medical‐​equipment providers who either overcharge Medicare for motorized wheelchairs or obtain them for people who don’t need them, Medicare and Justice Department records show.

Medicare plans to almost triple the number of anti‐​fraud strike forces it operates nationwide, from seven to 20, U.S. Health and Human Services Department budget documents show.

Almost triple! Too bad fraud experts say Medicare would have to increase its anti‐​fraud efforts 10- or 20‐​fold to address fraud in a serious way.

Congress will never do that, of course, because the game is rigged — not just to allow fraud, but to protect fraud.