Watchdogs: Government Paid Millions in Medicare to Deceased, Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigrants prohibited by law from receiving Medicare

Unidentified illegal immigrant / AP
October 31, 2013

The federal government has paid tens of millions of dollars in Medicare benefits to dead people and illegal immigrants, according to a pair of reports from federal watchdogs released on Thursday.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services paid out $23 million to beneficiaries after their deaths in 2011, according to one report from HHS’ inspector general.

Another report tallied more than $28 million in payments from 2009 to 2011 to individuals who were in the country illegally.

In all, CMS paid Medicare benefits to 4,139 illegal immigrants and 17,403 deceased people, according to the two reports.

Federal regulations prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving Medicare benefits. CMS has policies in place to prevent people who are unlawfully present from receiving benefits under Medicare Parts A and B, but no such protections for Medicare Part D benefits.

The nearly $51 million in total improper payments to both groups represent a small percentage of total Medicare benefits, but the inspector general recommended that CMS develop processes to further reduce those payments.

CMS agreed with recommendations in both reports, pledging to strengthen its efforts to combat Medicare fraud and improper payments.

"We agree that in cases where the information indicates an individual is not lawfully present in the United States, that individual should not be permitted to enroll or to remain enrolled in a Part D plan during the period where he or she is not eligible to receive federal benefits," CMS chief Marilyn Tavenner told the Washington Times.

The two IG reports were the latest in the office’s ongoing investigation into the issue. Reports released in January found CMS had paid $125 million to illegal immigrants and prison inmates.