They're also soliciting seniors over the phone and through social media on the internet.
Many vendors then turn over the cheek swabs to clinical laboratories, which authorities say pay kickbacks for the referrals to fleece the federal Medicare program for costly genetic tests that patients largely don't need or even know are billed in their names.
While authorities caution that the expanding genetic-testing industry has many legitimate operators, there's a rising number of scofflaws in the field making it the fastest-growing area of Medicare fraud. And it's costing the
Genetic testing, which entails the examination of a person's DNA to predict risks for cancer, dementia and other diseases, has become so corrupted by racketeers that the
It is the latest viral-like scam to infect the
Federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies first started seeing an increase in genetic-testing claims to Medicare and keeping an eye out for fraud five years ago.
"But in 2018 we started to get an explosion of complaints [from Medicare beneficiaries]," said
Complaints about genetic-testing fraud soared to 50 a week compared to one a week, said Richmond, the former special agent in charge of HHS-OIG's office in
In recent years federal agents with HHS-OIG and the
One of the biggest was in
"Doctors contracted with
The genetic tests, which cost about
A defense attorney for Garipoli, who was released from federal custody Wednesday on a
"We are going to be able to show that hundreds of satisfied patients contracted for these services and received them," Steckel said. "Our position is that the money he's receiving from the labs is not kickbacks. It's legitimate income."
Another federal indictment accuses a
In addition, federal prosecutors filed genetic-testing cases in
On Friday, the owner of a
HHS-OIG's Richmond said that these cases, involving purported genetic-testing services offered by phone, on the internet or in person, generally extend beyond a state's borders. "It's more difficult to classify hotter spots [of the country] because you may have a lab in
Officials with the
"The reach is endless," she said, referring to the locations visited by unscrupulous vendors to hit up seniors. "If it's not your doctor, don't do it. ... Never give out your Medicare information."
Chansler said that senior citizens not only run the risk of being exploited for Medicare fraud but that their identities and
Chansler also said senior citizens or their family members need to scrutinize so-called Medicare explanation of benefits to ensure their card is not wrongly used to bill the federal program for false claims. She said Medicare beneficiaries should be on the lookout for such suspicious genetic-testing items as "gene analysis," "molecular pathology" or "laboratory" services.
And, she said, any Medicare beneficiary who had a cheek swab done without a physician should report it to state or federal authorities.
If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the federal
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