Felons and fugitives are receiving tens of millions of dollars annually in illegal federal benefits, largely because program administrators are not checking law enforcement records, government investigations show.
Medicare, for example, paid more than $25,000 for services to an inmate convicted of killing his mother and more than $97,000 to a facility that treated nine inmates whose crimes included arson, attempted assault, breaking and entering, and burglary.
Federal laws prohibit most prisoners from receiving Medicare and Medicaid payments. Fugitive felons, along with probation and parole violators, are barred from getting Supplemental Security Income for needy individuals who are aged, blind or disabled.
While some state or local laws include provisions that could qualify prisoners for Medicare and Medicaid, officials of those programs have not tried to determine which jurisdictions might allow the benefits.
"The government is aiding and abetting the flight of fugitive felons," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Finance Committee chairman. "Government programs are paying to help convicted criminals stay on the lam."
The issue has come to the attention of investigators from the Health and Human Services Department, the Social Security Administration, Congress and the state of Louisiana. Among the problems identified, according to congressional and federal agency documents provided to The Associated Press:
$32 million in Medicare fee-for-service payments were made on behalf of 7,438 incarcerated beneficiaries from 1997 through 1999, with a strong likelihood that most payments violated the law.
$75 million in federal Medicaid funds was paid to Louisiana State University medical facilities from 1997 through this year. A top Louisiana state auditor, Daniel Kyle, questioned why federal officials approved the disbursements when federal regulations do not permit them.
At least 27,700 fugitives were paid $76 million in Supplemental Security Income benefits since August 1996 contrary to law, and the total may increase by $30 million annually if the payments continue, the AP reported in December.