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Sometime ago we wrote about the use of the False Claims Act to address the problem of fraud by dentist or oral surgeons who serve children covered by Medicaid. This week the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services issued its third report on this problem; this report focused on fraud in the Louisiana Medicaid program, while prior reports focused on problems in New York and New York City. This week’s report chronicles past FCA settlements and Congressional hearings as well as the OIG’s earlier reports, and promises that further reports addressing the issue on a nationwide scale are forthcoming.
The federal-state Medicaid program is designed to assist low income persons obtain medical care, and among the benefits is dental coverage for children under the age of 18. According to the OIG, Medicaid is the primary source of dental coverage for children in low-income families and provides access to dental care for approximately 37 million children. “Medicaid dental services must include diagnostic and preventive services, as well as needed treatment and follow up care. Diagnostic services may include x-rays of the mouth; preventive services may include cleanings, topical fluoride applications, and dental sealants. Dental treatment covers a wide range of services such as fillings; tooth extractions; and pulpotomies, which are often referred to as ‘baby root canals’.” Report at p. 1. Among the OIG’s concerns are providers who are billing for dental procedures that are medically unnecessary or were in fact never even provided. These concerns in turn implicate the quality of care these children are receiving or indeed the possibility of patient harm among a particularly vulnerable population. Id.
It appears from the OIG Reports that the government has so far been relying primarily on claims data and statistics to identify fraudulent providers. This approach has its limitations, however, as reflected by the fact that the OIG readily acknowledges that it “ did not include pediatric dental specialists because the wide variation in their billing behavior made it difficult to analyze them as one peer group. Some pediatric dental specialists provide services that make them similar to general dentists, while others provide more complex services.” Report p. 4. Moreover, at p. 6 the Report notes that the claims data simply identifies providers who may warrant further scrutiny, but it does not show they committed fraud. No doubt the taxpayers would benefit from whistleblowers who work in the dental sector of health care coming forward with real time information and cooperation to assist the government’s attempt to crackdown on fraud in this part of the Medicaid program.