Fraud costs military health program $100 million-plus
MADISON, Wis. – The U.S. military’s health insurance program has been swindled out of more than $100 million over the past decade in the Philippines, where doctors, hospitals and clinics have conspired with American veterans to submit bogus claims, according to prosecutors and court records.
Seventeen people have been convicted so far — including at least a dozen U.S. military retirees — in a little-noticed investigation that has been handled by federal prosecutors out of Wisconsin because a Madison company holds the contract to process many of the claims. It has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
At the center of the case is Tricare, a Pentagon-run program that insures 9.2 million current and former service members and dependents worldwide. The United States closed its military bases in the Philippines in 1992 and withdrew its active-duty forces, but thousands of retirees remained. Some saw an opportunity to pry easy cash from Tricare. Health care providers in the Philippines filed claims for medical services never delivered, inflated claims by as much as 2,000 percent and shared kickbacks with retirees who played along, court records reviewed by The Associated Press show. “There just seemed to be so many possibilities for abuse of the system, and there were so few controls in terms of monitoring,” said former U.S. Attorney Peg Lautenschlager, who oversaw prosecutions in the late 1990s. Pentagon auditors say Tricare moved slowly to uncover and stop the fraud. And a February audit warned that the program is still vulnerable to rip-offs because of lax controls and that similar fraud schemes are starting to emerge in Latin America.News of the scope of the fraud comes as the Pentagon seeks to raise fees for Tricare’s beneficiaries — fourfold, in some cases. The proposed increases have outraged groups representing servicemen and have been blocked by Congress.
Tricare paid $210.9 million in overseas claims in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available. At the height of the fraud in 2003, Pentagon officials say, two-thirds of the $61.8 million paid to Philippine providers — about $40 million — was fraudulent.