Did An Ambulance Company Take Taxpayers For A Ride?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - NewsChannel 5 investigates a local ambulance company accused of defrauding Medicare for a truckload of consumer money.
It's one of the most profitable private ambulance companies in the state. The privately owned Murfreesboro Ambulance Service is at the center of a federal investigation into Medicare fraud.
The company transports critically ill patients to and from doctor's appointments, but federal investigators said it acted like an overpriced taxi service -- fraudulently billing Medicare more than $430,000.
"Did you get rich ripping off Medicare?" investigative reporter Ben Hall asked the owner of the company.
"I don't know as I ever got rich. We made a good living by working long hard hours, " responded owner Woody Medlock.
Medlock denied his company did anything wrong.
Federal agents froze his bank account, seized his $57,000 Corvette and his Harley Davidson motorcycle. They claim he bought those things using money obtained defrauding Medicare.
"We know we haven't done any Medicare fraud," said Medlock.
Federal agents disagree. They followed Medlock's ambulances and claim the company billed Medicare for patients who had no need for an ambulance.
In one case agents observed a dialysis patient "get into the front seat of the ambulance unassisted." They watched later as the ambulance stopped and he "walks into a restaurant." The patient came out with a bag and got back in the front seat of the ambulance.
The ambulance service billed Medicare more than $485.00 for the trip - claiming the patient was transported by stretcher. Investigators said an alternate form of transportation was available for $5.00.
"Medicare was billed $485.00 for something that could have been done for $5.00?" asked Hall.
"Well, Medicare sets what we get paid. We don't set what we get paid," responded Medlock.
Medlock claims he only transports patients whom doctors say need medical attention.
"You're putting it back on me to decide whether they need an ambulance or not. The doctor decides that," said Medlock.
Investigators claim the company ordered its employees to falsify paperwork. If a patient could walk supervisors told employees "not to write that down because Medicare kicks that back," according to court documents.
"If it did happen, it was not done by our orders or our okay or anything," said Medlock.
Medlock said some employees may have acted without his knowledge. He is now involved in an increasing government crackdown on Medicare fraud.
Special Agent Pat Petty is with Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and one of five Medicare Fraud investigators based in Nashville. He said his office stays busy investigating Medicare fraud cases.
"It's taking something that doesn't belong to you, but at the end of the day consumers bear the cost," said Petty.
Petty did not talk about the Medlock case, but said agents have recovered more than $60 million because of Medicare fraud in Tennessee over the last two years.
At Murfreesboro's City Cab, the idea that taxpayers spent up to $485 to transport patients who could walk on their own is hard to believe.
"We have three or four patients we take to dialysis three days a week," said dispatcher David Maynard.
He said their prices are much more reasonable.
"Anywhere inside the city limits of Murfreesboro for $15 dollars flat rate," said Maynard.
The Medlocks have not been charged. The ambulance service continues operating and the Medlocks said they've never been in trouble before.
A recent federal study indicated one fourth of all ambulance transports nationally did not meet Medicare requirements. That amounted to more than $400 million in improper payments.
Nationally, Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion a year.
If you suspect Medicare fraud you can report it by calling 1- 800-HHS-TIPS. It takes you to the Health and Human Services Tip line.