WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government wrote duplicate checks to doctors who provided care for veterans, costing taxpayers as much as $128 million in extra payments, according to a new watchdog report out this week.
In nearly 300,000 cases, private doctors were paid twice — once by the Veterans Health Administration and another time by Medicare — for the same care provided to veterans from 2017 to 2021, the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General found in its report.
There’s been a spike in those duplicate payments since 2020, when the program that allows veterans to seek care from private doctors was expanded.
“These duplicate payments occurred because CMS did not implement controls to address duplicate payments for services,” the HHS OIG said in its report.
Roughly 1.9 million veterans every year now receive health care, paid for by the federal government, from private doctors when a VA medical facility is too far away or has long wait times. The number of veterans seeking care from private doctors has more than doubled since 2020.
The HHS OIG’s audit examined $19.2 billion Medicare payments for 36 million claims for individuals who enrolled in Medicare and were eligible for VA services. The investigation found that Medicare paid out $128 million in nearly 300,000 claims that had already been covered by the VA from 2017 to 2021.
About 90% of those claims were for doctor evaluations and visits.
The audit found that the VA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services don’t share information about payments made to doctors and that the agency does not tell providers it should just bill the VA, not Medicare, for its services.
In a letter responding to the report, CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said the agency is working with the VA to establish a data-sharing agreement to help cut down on double payments.