GAO: Doctors owing unpaid taxes still receive Medicare payments

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More than 21,000 doctors and other health professionals who participate in Medicare haven’t paid their federal and payroll taxes, and some are using that money to buy million-dollar homes and luxury vehicles, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, which plans to hold a hearing Tuesday. While these doctors owe more than $1.3 billion, they are still receiving Medicare payments, because the government fails to check their background, said federal investigators in a New York Times article.

While Medicare has no method to prevent doctors who are delinquent on their taxes from receiving payments, Leslie V. Novak, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said they are working with the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service to satisfy tax debts by seizing some of the money paid to federal contractors, the Times reported.

The GAO gave these examples of problems, as reported in The New York Times:
  • Medicare paid more than $100,000 to a doctor in 2005, even though the doctor owed more than $1 million in federal taxes;
  • Another doctor was paid nearly $100,000 by Medicare even though the doctor owed more than $600,000 in individual income taxes and had been convicted of laundering money;
  • Medicare paid more than $100,000 to a doctor who owed more than $2 million in federal taxes and had a history of not filing tax returns; and
  • Medicare paid more than $1 million to a doctor-owned business in 2005, even though the business owed more than $1 million in taxes.