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Medicare paid millions of dollars for wrongdoings, report finds

An exclusive Reuters report released Thursday found that Medicare administrators paid doctors more than $457 million in 2012.
A health worker draws blood from a patient in Denver, Colorado.
A health worker draws blood from a patient in Denver, Colorado.

Medicare paid doctors $457 million in 2012 for 16 million tests to detect drugs -- from prescription narcotics to heroin, according to a new report from Reuters.

A sharp rise in prescription drug abuse among older Americans has caused a nationwide increase in urine and blood tests, procedures that typically are potential areas of fraud among providers. The Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services, which heads Medicare, first started investigating scams in such tests in 2011.

The exclusive analysis published on Thursday also found that Medicare administrators paid three Connecticut doctors a total of $1.4 million after they billed the insurance program in 2012 for 24,000 drug tests -- for only 145 patients. The individuals conducted as much as four times more drug tests per patient than any other provider in the country.

Two of the three doctors denied wrongdoing when questioned by Reuters, and the other individual declined to comment.

In addition, Medicare, the national federal insurance program for Americans aged 65 and older, issued $6.7 billion in 2010 for health care visits that were improperly coded, or 21% of the costs designated for assessment visits, according to the report.

Medicare usually first provides money and then asks questions. But Sylvia Mary Mathews Burwell, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said she would aim to ensure errors and fraud are detected before payments are made to providers. Her promise came earlier this month during the confirmation hearings to replace Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sebelius resigned in April from her tenure, which included last year's disastrous rollout of the Obamacare health exchange website. The now-infamous technical problems prevented millions of Americans from enrolling in health care. Several White House officials, as well as an expert team from Silicon Valley, worked to fix the issues as negative articles in the press plagued the president's health care law.

But President Barack Obama met his target for enrollees by last month when officials reported that more than 7 million people had signed up for Obamacare through federal exchanges.