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FBI Raids The Scooter Store; Will TSA Crack Down On 'Wheelchair Miracles'?

Somehow, the image of a slow-speed chase comes to mind:

Federal agents have "wrapped up their search of The Scooter Store's offices in New Braunfels," the San Antonio Express-News reports.

It seems that on Wednesday and Thursday, the Express-News says, "about 150 law enforcement offices — including from the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Texas attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control — swarmed The Scooter Store's offices."

They wanted to see the company's books and billing records. After all, in January CBS This Morning had reported that:

"Medicare fraud costs taxpayers an estimated $60 billion annually. One problem area is power wheelchairs, which cost the program hundreds of millions of dollars a year. ... The Scooter Store is the largest supplier of power wheelchairs in the country — the TV ads are everywhere. ... [Former salesman Brian] Setzer told CBS This Morning that the company's strategy was to 'bulldoze' doctors into writing prescriptions, so people would get the chairs, whether they needed them or not. 'They were just pushing harder and harder to get chairs sold,' Setzer said."

Scooter Store CEO Martin Landon, according to the Express-News, says "we are cooperating fully with the investigation." The company's employees "have been instructed to tell customers that the company is in full compliance with all federal rules and regulations."

Meanwhile, during our search for stories about what was happening in Texas, we came across another story from earlier this week about a different kind of scooting, and we can't resist passing it along. According to The Wall Street Journal:

"It happens regularly, airport officials say. A traveler requests a wheelchair, gets pushed to the front of the security line and screened — and then jumps up out of the chair and rushes off into the terminal.

" 'We call them miracles. They just start running with their heavy carry-ons,' said wheelchair attendant Kenny Sanchez, who has been pushing for more than 14 years."

As the Journal adds, "airports across the country say more able-bodied travelers have figured out they can use wheelchairs for convenience, making waits a lot longer for travelers with genuine needs. ... At Los Angeles International Airport, airlines and companies that provide wheelchair service estimate 15% of all requests are phony, said Lawrence Rolon, coordinator for disabled services for Los Angeles World Airports."

Sounds like a case for the Transportation Security Administration.

Update at 3 p.m. ET. More On All Things Considered:

Reporter Patrick Danner of the Express-News spoke with NPR's Melissa Block this afternoon. Details of the search warrant that was served on the company are under seal, he said. But in the past, the issue has been that the company's chairs may have been "prescribed to elderly people who don't have a legitimate need for them" and whether the company, as the former salesman told CBS This Morning, plays any part in that process. He noted that the company has never admitted any wrongdoing. Part of their conversation will be on today's All Things Considered. We'll add the audio to the top of this post later today.

( H/T to The Atlantic Wire.)

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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