Medical insurance fraud commonly comes in the form of kickbacks.
Health services make up a large portion of the American economy, so medical insurance fraud is a common occurrence. Kickbacks are one of the most common forms of illegal behavior in the healthcare setting, but why is this the case? And what are kickbacks, anyway? Read on to find out.
What Are Kickbacks and How Do They Work?
A kickback is similar to a bribe in that one party will pay another party for improper benefits. Looking at an example is the best way to understand what a kickback is.
In a hypothetical healthcare setting, let’s say you have the patient, the patient’s primary care physician, the patient’s insurance company and a doctor who focuses on treating arthritis (we’ll call this doctor “John”). Now let’s assume the patient suffers from joint pain and goes to see his primary care physician. After an examination, the primary care physician believes the patient might have arthritis and refers the patient to Doctor John. The patient sees Doctor John and receives medical treatment. Along the way, the patient’s insurance company pays each doctor for the medical services they provide.
In a hypothetical involving a kickback, the patient’s primary care physician examines the patient. But instead of referring the patient to Doctor John, refers him to Doctor Bob. In return for referring the patient to Doctor Bob, the primary care physician receives a payment from Doctor Bob as a “reward” for sending him a new patient. In this example, the payment Doctor Bob sends to the primary care physician is a kickback.
Why Are Kickbacks Common?
One reason why kickbacks are so easy is that they’re easy to hide. Looking back at the above example, Doctor Bob and the primary care physician could be great friends who spend a lot of time together, perhaps playing golf once a month. During each of these golf games, Doctor Bob puts a roll of unmarked $20 bills in the primary care physician’s golf bag when no one is looking.
Unless the physician tells someone about this kickback, there will be almost no way to identify or trace those unmarked bills. Do you think the primary care physician is going to record the cash in the office business ledger or report it to the IRS as taxable income? The answer is no. An individual can easily hide a few hundred dollars per month of ill-gotten gains by simply using the cash for ordinary purchases. In fact, the primary care physician’s spouse probably won’t even know about it.
But one of the biggest reasons why kickbacks are so common is the nature of the healthcare system in the United States. Before a patient can see a doctor who focuses on a particular area of medicine, they need a referral. In other words, if a patient wants to see Doctor B, they must first see Doctor A. That doctor will give them a referral to see Doctor B.
In a perfect world, Doctor A will always refer patients to the best doctor, whether it’s Doctor B, C or D. Who Doctor A ultimately chooses is a judgment call. Doctors may not be able to provide a plausible reason to explain why they choose to refer a patient to one doctor and not another. This means it’s very easy to set up a situation for kickbacks.
The only difficult part is covering up the kickback itself. As long as the kickback is small, it can probably remain hidden. But healthcare in the United States is expensive. With so much money flowing in and out of hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics, it’s hard to keep track of it all. On top of that, the medical and financial records created from just one doctor’s visit are immense. Anyone would have trouble sorting through to catch a kickback scheme in action.
This is especially true in cases where a person has numerous medical procedures and bills or is in under medical care for a long period of time. Think of a person who undergoes cancer treatment, then spends several months in hospice before their death. That could be a good example of a case where unscrupulous providers could bill much more than they actually should.
In many situations, only an individual with a very detailed understanding of the financial operations of a healthcare facility can identify a kickback scheme. This is why whistleblowers are so important to stop kickbacks.
Looking for Additional Information about Fraud Related to Medical Insurance?
Click to find out more about medical insurance fraud by contacting our team at Bothwell Law Group online.