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Medicare Overpaid Bonuses to Doctors for Years

(Terri Langford, Houston Chronicle)
The American public for years paid physicians millions of dollars in Medicare bonuses to treat the medically needy in parts of Texas and across the country – even though many doctors no longer qualified for the cash and federal officials knew it, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

Documents show primary care physicians in Hidalgo County were overpaid $64 million from 2003 until last year. Doctors at 31 other Texas locations also received a still undetermined amount in bonuses for providing medical and mental health care in parts of Spring Branch, the Third Ward, Pasadena, Baytown and Texas City, as well as parts of San Antonio and North Central Bexar County, among others.

Nationally, $33 million in unwarranted bonuses were doled out by Medicare in 2010 alone, federal officials concede.

Under a little-known federal incentive, primary care doctors who work in communities short on health care options qualify for a 10 percent bonus for each Medicare claim they file. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has the paid the bonus to lure doctors to rural and poorer areas of the United States, dubbed Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs.

But records reviewed by the Chronicle show the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, responsible for updating and publishing the lists of who qualifies for the list and who doesn’t, failed to adjust its list of doctor shortage areas from 2003 until November 2011. (Read more at the Houston Chronicle)

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