In my occupational infancy, I worked in retail as the manager of a camera shop. The month of February was a time of reflection in retail. The Christmas receipts had been counted, the January returns had been calculated and then came February, which meant a lot of nothing. Here’s a little secret I can share with you; President’s Day sales do not bring in bargain hunters. It always seemed odd to me to celebrate the birthday of George Washington by going out and buying an on-sale camera when the product didn’t exist in the 18th century.
If the retail sector has their February doldrums, there has been no such downturn in health care news in the past week.
The first story I read was a story of a van being stolen in Manhattan that contained magnetic tapes with the records of 1.7 million patients and hospital staff over a 20-year period from various New York City hospitals. The van belonged to a company that was contracted to be the medical records vendor for the city.
There are many rules for survival in New York City, the biggest of which would be “lock the van”. The city has responded by firing the vendor, filing suit against the same and sending out notification letters to all of the people affected (covering 17 languages), offering fraud resolution services and free credit monitoring. As if we needed yet another reminder about weaknesses in the protection of personal information, this story represents one of the biggest data breaches yet, showing all of us that there is still a long way to go, especially when your medical records vendor drives your tapes around in a van as if they are Scooby-Doo.
In further developments, in a joint press conference yesterday afternoon by the Departments of Justice and Health & Human Services, it was announced that 111 people had been arrested for various fraud schemes that led to false billings of $225 million to the Medicare program. The newly ordained defendants hail from Miami, Detroit, Brooklyn, Tampa, Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and Chicago. Due to the success of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Teams (HEAT), they have now been expanded in Dallas and Chicago.
The fight against fraud continues unabated, with $4 billion dollars being returned to the Medicare program by the HEAT teams alone in 2010. I eagerly await the upcoming report about the success of the RAC contractors in the past year. In the meantime, it behooves every health care provider to be aware of the expanded audit environment.
This is not to say that there are investigators hiding under your bed, but what slippers have you ever been aware of that breathe? If nothing else, the paranoia will give you something to think about during a slow retail season.