Grassley asks HHS to probe whether Castro regime is defrauding Medicare

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) grilled federal officials Wednesday about the Cuban government's possible ties to rampant Medicare fraud in south Florida.

Grassley asked Health and Human Services officials testifying before the Senate Finance Committee whether they were aware of any evidence that Cuba might be involved in fraud schemes against the government program.  

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He asked HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson to look into any evidence that Cuban officials have been "facilitating" Medicare fraud and to get back to him after coordinating with the Justice and State departments.

Levinson said he'd "have to get back to you on the particulars."

"We wouldn't comment on any particular case in a public forum," Levinson told The Hill after the hearing.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services released a list of the Top 10 healthcare fraud fugitives, who have defrauded the government of $124 million combined. Seven of the 10 fugitives were of Cuban origin, and six of those are now believed to be hiding on the island.

During the hearing, Grassley referenced a report from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami raising questions about the involvement of Fidel Castro's regime.

The report paraphrases a "high-level former intelligence official with the Cuban Government" as saying that there are "strong indications that the Cuban Government is directing some of these Medicare frauds as part of a desperate attempt to obtain hard currency."

"The source notes that the Cuban Government is also assisting (while not directing) other instances of Medicare fraud — providing perpetrators with information with which to commit fraud," wrote the report's author, research associate Vanessa Lopez. "The former Cuban official goes on to say that, in the instances where the Cuban Government is not directing or facilitating the fraud, it does provide Cuba as a place for fugitives to flee. This gives the Castro regime a convenient and care-free way to raise hard currency."

Furthermore, according to this source, "any fugitive in Cuba needs to pay astronomically large sums of money to the Cuban Government in order to enter and remain in the country."

Some Cuban-American groups have begun to ask for a congressional probe of Cuba's potential ties to Medicare fraud.

Grassley stopped short of that Wednesday, but his comments raised the level of attention a notch.

"I'm just now getting into this, so I don't really know what the next step is," Grassley told The Hill. "But at least there's one step going on now in regard to the written response that I got from [HHS]."