The River Styx Co-Pay

In Greek mythology, the River Styx served as the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. In order to cross the river, a dead person had to pay the ferryman, Charon, a fee. The ancients would place a coin in the mouth of the deceased in order to pay this fee, as it was believed that those unable to pay would never be able to cross into the underworld (and who really wants the semi-dead walking among us, anyway?).

According to a report in the New York Post, however, the dead seem to possess special powers that enable them to bill Medicaid for services, regardless of whether they are able to pay their way across the River Styx. A state audit conducted by the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) has found that health-care providers allegedly billed Medicaid for services provided to 287 patients who were actually dead.

One glaring example of the health care fraud involved Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, which accepted a dead Medicaid patient to harvest the cadaver’s organs, but then billed Medicaid for treatment.  According to the Post, other outrageous behavior included the following:

  • A dead patient’s Medicaid card was used at three dentists in a week;
  • Providers billed Medicaid for “scheduled patients” before actually treating them;
  • A family accepted delivery of a new bed paid for by Medicaid after the patient died;
  • A doctor requested delivery of his patient’s prescription to his office after she died.

Some of the providers claim the erroneous billing was the result of honest clerical errors, while others claim that they actually billed for the services while the patients were still alive. One pharmacy in Long Island billed Medicaid $28,000 for prescriptions written for 17 dead customers (“honest” clerical error?). In regard to clerical mistakes that result in Medicaid being charged for dead people’s treatment, Medicaid Inspector General Michael Sheehan observes

We don’t know how often it happens, but we think that it is a sign of general billing problems. What we tell people is, ‘If your billing system is so weak it bills for dead people, you are bound to have other billing problems, too.’

Those benefiting from billing Medicaid for dead folks run the gamut from big pharmacy chains to doctors to family members of the departed. Most people probably wouldn’t want to be remembered as a fraudulent Medicaid charge, making this type of fraud totally disrespectful to the dead (and, of course, the living taxpayers who foot the bill, too).