Staggering Rise in Catheter Bills Suggests Medicare Scam

Linda Hennis was checking her Medicare statement in January when she noticed something strange: It said a company she had never heard of had been paid about $12,000 for sending her 2,000 urinary catheters.

But she had never needed, or received, any catheters.

Ms. Hennis, a retired nurse who lives in a suburb of Chicago, noticed that the company selling the plastic tubes was called Pretty in Pink Boutique, and it was based in Texas. “There’s a mistake here,” Ms. Hennis recalled thinking.

She is among more than 450,000 Medicare beneficiaries whose accounts were billed for urinary catheters in 2023, up from about 50,000 in previous years, according to a new report produced by the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations, an advocacy group that represents hundreds of health care systems across the country. The report used a federal database of Medicare claims that is available to researchers.

The massive uptick in billing for catheters included $2 billion charged by seven high-volume suppliers, according to that analysis, potentially accounting for nearly one-fifth of all Medicare spending on medical supplies in 2023. Doctors, state insurance departments and health care groups around the country said the spike in claims for catheters that were never delivered suggested a far-reaching Medicare scam.

“We think it’s outrageous,” said Clif Gaus, executive director of the group that conducted the analysis.

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