It can be argued that telemedicine has never been more important than it is right now. Also referred to as “telehealth”, telemedicine is the practice of using such technology as smartphones and computers to provide remote health care. It’s an option that the coronavirus pandemic has practically made mandatory. In order to promote social distancing, in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, telemedicine is being used by medical professionals all over the country.
Unfortunately, the practice of telemedicine is not immune to health care fraud.
As the Southern District of Georgia branch of the United States Department of Justice reports, Charlene Frame has been charged for her alleged participation in a telemedicine fraud scheme. According to the report, the Georgia-based woman is accused of conspiring to pay medical providers in exchange for obtaining orders for durable medical equipment (DME).
Frame is the owner and operator of two companies based in the State of Georgia: Royal Physician Network, LLC and Envision It Perfect, LLC. The DoJ reveals that while operating both businesses, Frame offered to pay physicians and nurse practitioners in order to encourage them to order DME that she could then sell to DME providers. Inevitably, she would bill Medicare for the equipment.
“The financial total for orders facilitated through this scheme is alleged to be in excess of $60 million for thousands of patient orders,” details the DoJ, “Medicare beneficiaries were located in the Southern District of Georgia and elsewhere. The defendant was charged by way of an Information, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.”
Frame is the 23rd defendant charged in one of Georgia’s largest fraud operations ever.
Both “Operation Brace Yourself” and “Operation Double Helix” are part of the largest fraud operation in the history of the Southern District of Georgia. So far, the collective operation has charged eight physicians, two nurse practitioners, two operators of different telemedicine companies, two brokers of patient data and several owners of durable medical equipment companies.
As the DoJ reveals, “the combined $470 million in fraud charged in the Southern District of Georgia is part of nationwide operations by the Department of Justice that thus far has included allegations involving billions of fraudulent claims for genetic testing, orthotic braces, pain creams, and other items.”
Evidently, the $60 million scheme concocted by Frame is just a small piece of a much larger operation. Chris Hacker is the Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We will always protect our tax-paying citizens, who are all victims of greedy providers, especially those who need government assistance for their health care needs,” he is quoted as saying in the DoJ report.
The investigation into Frame’s scheme is ongoing.
Just as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our lives, those who look to take advantage of it for profit rage on. The DoJ highlights the fact that telemedicine is an increasingly important part of our nation’s health care system. “Vigilance in ensuring that fraud and kickbacks do not usurp the legitimate practice of medicine by electronic means is more important than ever,” they state.
As well, the Department of Justice urges anyone who is aware of any fraud or kickbacks relating to telemedicine, including COVID-19 fraud, to call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI.