BBB warns of unwanted COVID tests from Mars Lab Services in Chicago billed to Medicare, Medicaid

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
BBB warns of unwanted COVID tests billed to Medicare, Medicaid
The Better Business Bureau issued an alert about unwanted COVID tests being sent by Mars Lab Services in Chicago and billed to Medicare and Medicaid.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It may sound strange, a mystery COVID-19 test showing up at your home without you ordering it. But the problem is getting so bad that the Better Business Bureau has issued an alert and Medicare is telling consumers to check their Medicare statements.

"I said, 'No, I do not want them. I don't want them'. And finally, I just hung up," said Brent Weeks.

Even after refusing COVID-19 tests on the phone, Mars Lab Services on the city's North Side sent tests which will expire in September, to Weeks' home outside Seattle. Weeks said he didn't give the Mars Lab Services rep any information, but she still had his phone number which he believes meant she was likely getting his information off a call list.

Weeks' Medicare statement included the $96 charge for a box of COVID test from Mars Lab Services.

"It could be a form of Medicare fraud," Weeks said.

The BBB said Weeks and 11 other consumers have filed complaints against Mars Lab Services since the end of May, and the BBB has now issued an alert about the company.

"It appears on the consumers are alleging that they're receiving COVID test not being ordered, and also Medicare is being billed for them without their knowledge or authorization," said Steve Bernas of the Better Business Bureau.

Another consumer in Virginia said he also got a test and saw a charge from Mars Lab Services on his Medicare statement. He never ordered the test.

"I and my wife would say to them that what they're doing is wrong, and they should stop it," Walter Mathews said.

The ABC7 I-Team called and emailed Mars Lab Services, then went to its listed Chicago address on the 2300 block of West Touhy, but have not yet heard back.

When you inspect the Medicare statements, they say the government paid $96 of the $200 total charge. The consumer balances say "0" for now, but the BBB said the company could bill consumers for what Medicare didn't cover.

"The consumers could be on the hook for this. And obviously they're gonna be very upset about it, but we have not seen it yet," Bernas said.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told the I-Team it's investigating similar complaints

The agency said consumers should check statements and report suspected fraud, and that CMMS will notify a beneficiary if it has been determined that their account numbers was compromised.

"You know clearly I did not order it, even though they contacted me to order it. I did not order it, clearly and flatly!" Weeks said.

In June, the Federal Trade Commission issued an overall alert about the same issue, saying fraud like this, along with mistakes, cost Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year.

You should check your Medicare statements and report mistakes or fraud immediately to Medicare or The Department of Health and Human Services.

You can report fraud to Medicare by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

If you received COVID tests you didn't order, contact the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General online by clicking here or at 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services statement:

CMS is committed to preventing fraud and protecting people with Medicare from falling victim to fraud. CMS will notify a beneficiary if it has been determined that their Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) has been compromised and, in that case, will replace a beneficiary's Medicare card with a new MBI.

CMS implemented the over-the-counter COVID-19 Test Demonstration to test the efficacy of Medicare covering over-the-counter COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing during the COVID-19 public health emergency, which ended on May 11, 2023. Attached is a fact sheet on the CMS Over-the-Counter Test Demonstration, which is also available on the CMS website. Medicare Advantage plans may continue to pay for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, and consumers should check with their plans for more details.

CMS is investigating consumer complaints about unsolicited over-the-counter COVID-19 tests arriving in the mail. To protect the integrity of the investigative process, CMS doesn't provide details about complaints or pending actions. CMS continues to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate health care fraud schemes that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has an alert regarding COVID-19 related scams that may be helpful.

People with Medicare who receive any items they did not order, including COVID-19 test kits, should call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) and report it. If the consumer does not intend to refill automatically or no longer wants refills of COVID-19 test kits, they should contact their pharmacy/provider to opt-out and stop refills.

CMS is reminding people to use the same vigilance to guard their Medicare numbers and cards that they use for Social Security and credit cards. They should only share Medicare numbers with trusted health care providers or verified COVID-19 vaccine administrators. News reporters may find this fraud reporting information helpful.

Consumers can report suspected medical identity theft to the Health & Human Services fraud hotline: 800-447-8477 (800-HHS-TIPS) or the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 800-835-6422.

As stated above, if a person with Medicare receives items or services they have not ordered or authorized, or if they notice their Medicare Summary Notice includes items or services they did not order or receive, they should contact 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) immediately to report it. They should also contact Medicare if they suspect someone else is using their Medicare Number. Information and guidance on how to protect your Medicare care, and how get a new one, can be found here. If they suspect identity theft, or feel like they gave their personal information to someone they shouldn't have, they can contact the Federal Trade Commission.