Home health care providers exposed to audit

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday widened his probe of fraud in the state's Medicaid system, issuing subpoenas to 27 home health care providers in the Binghamton, Rochester and Buffalo areas.

Cuomo said the subpoenas will seek information as to whether the health agencies were eluding taxpayers and providing poor care to patients.

Five subpoenas were issued to providers in the Rochester area, three in Broome County, and the Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County Inc.

The Binghamton-area agencies targeted are Gentiva Health Services, Lourdes At Home and Twin Tier Home Health Inc. None of the Binghamton or Ithaca agencies had an immediate comment.

The subpoenas are part of Cuomo's "Operation Home Alone" that has led to charges against 80 home health workers and more than 50 convictions, mainly from the New York City area.

Cuomo said his office has discovered "rampant fraud throughout the system" and is now focusing on upstate agencies.

Heidi Wendle, special deputy attorney general for Medicaid fraud, said the subpoenas weren't issued because of suspicion of guilt, but to audit the agencies' performance.

Convicted defendants have been ordered to repay nearly $14 million in restitution to the state. Cuomo said home health care represents about $3.8 billion a year in state Medicaid costs.

"It's a double fraud," Cuomo told Gannett News Service. "It's victimizing elderly people, disabled people who are homebound for the most part, and you rip off the taxpayers."

Cuomo wants the state to establish a registry of certified home health aides.

The state pays more than $15.3 billion a year for Medicaid, which aids the poor and disabled.