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Reuters reporter hits streets to find shell companies bilking Medicare

Brian Grow and Matthew Bigg of Reuters hit the streets of Miami to see if some Medicare providers were legitimate. In two buildings, they found 26 companies billing Medicare. They checked incorporation records and found “information that one government official said could prompt ‘a serious criminal investigation’ of some of the companies,” the story says.

They start the story with the tale of a fake AIDS clinic that had billed Medicare for more than $4.5 million. Of the man behind the clinic, Michel De Jesus Huarte, they write:

“He had hatched a plan to steal millions more from Medicare by forming at least 29 other shell companies – paper-only firms with no real operations….

“Hundreds of others have used the veil of corporate secrecy to help steal hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the nation’s largest social service programs.”

Today’s Tips: Use Secretary of State databases and National Provider Identification numbers to get details behind Medicare providers.

Brian Grow, enterprise correspondent, Reuters

Brian Grow hit the streets looking for Medicare fraud for a Reuters investigations into shell companies.

“The Medicare system is so fragmented and hard to follow that you have to run searches across multiple sets of databases,” says Brian, who recently won the 2011 Foreign Press Association Media Award for Financial/Economic Reporting for earlier reporting on the use of shell and shelf companies. Kelly Carr of the Reynolds Center shared in that award.

The incorporation records provided executive names. He put them into a spreadsheet to track how frequently executives and ownership changed and to find executives who controlled multiple medical entities, he says. He also ran the names of company owners and executives against civil and criminal cases.

He used company names to search for National Provider Identification numbers, which are assigned to health-care providers. He added all of the information to his spreadsheet, which took about week to create and another month to analyze.

Brian also won the Reynolds Center’s Barlett & Steele Award for Investigative Business Journalism in 2008 for reporting for BusinessWeek on how big creditors routinely collect debts that have been forgiven in the courts.

About the Author

Rosland Gammon is a former business journalist turned college instructor. Her newsroom experience includes reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and reporting and editing at Bloomberg News. Gammon currently teaches communications at Alverno College in Milwaukee. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Rosland Gammon

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