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ENFORCEMENT

Federal COVID-19 relief fraud crackdown begins

As with so many other businesses, federal COVID-19 relief was (and, in some cases, still is) the only thing that kept some practices afloat during the darkest days of the pandemic. But with the virus in apparent retreat, business is getting back to normal. And that includes the business of enforcing the federal laws. Among the first orders of business for federal investigators and prosecutors will be to crack down on recipients who took advantage of COVID-19 relief funds. While not uniquely a health care initiative, this new initiative will undoubtedly have a direct effect on medical practices. In fact, it already has.

Colorado Physician Indicted for COVID-19 Ripoff

In one of the first of what’s bound to be many cases, the U.S. Justice Department indicted a 56-year-old Colorado physician for stealing nearly $300,000 from three different COVID relief programs. The DOJ claims the accused siphoned the money from a medical clinic’s account into his own personal bank account and spent it on travel and lavish home improvements.

The COVID relief programs allegedly targeted in this case are the ones in which many providers participated, including:

  • The Accelerated and Advance Payment Program, which provides reimbursement funds in advance of service to help Medicare providers maintain cash flow during national emergencies;
  • The $50 billion Provider Relief Fund for  providers involved in coronavirus response; and
  • The Paycheck Protection Program providing 1 percent loans to help small businesses meet their payroll, rent, mortgage and utilities obligations.

 Bottom Line: Prepare for COVID-19 Relief Auditors

Almost from the moment Congress passed the COVID-19 relief programs, federal enforcement agents have been sounding the warning on relief fraud scams. And now the investigations and prosecutions have begun. So, if your office accepted federal relief, anticipate an audit and be sure you have the accounting and program compliance records you’ll need to survive it.

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