This appeared in the Montreal Gazette. By now, everyone should realize that immigration and citizenship fraud is massive, and that enforcement measures are a must, particularly against abusers and those who assist them.
Massive fraud uncovered by Quebec's medicare insurance board
By Aaron Derfel, The Gazette
February 4, 2010
Quebec’s medicare insurance board has set up a special investigative unit as a result of the largest fraud in its history in which nearly 750 foreigners obtained free health care at a cost to taxpayers of more than $500,000.
An official with the Régie de l’assurance-maladie du Québec on Thursday described a “sophisticated” scam that lasted five years in which people from the Middle East, almost all from Lebanon, used bogus documentation to obtain medicare cards.
“These people simulated their residence here in Quebec,” said Marc Lortie, a RAMQ spokesperson.
“These individuals, with the complicity of an immigration consultant, procured automatic banking cards, telephone cards and other documents to show proof of residence.”
An 18-month-long investigation by RAMQ revealed that 1,451 individuals had falsely obtained medicare cards. Of that number, 747 received medical services that cost $508,768.
Lortie said that all the people involved had received permanent residency status by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. “In addition to defrauding RAMQ, they also lied to the federal government,” he added.
With their permanent residency papers in hand, they showed up at RAMQ offices in Montreal to get their medicare cards. But they then returned to Lebanon, Lortie said.
Under RAMQ regulations, if a resident of Quebec is out of the country for at least 183 days in a given year, he or she loses their right to medicare coverage, and must reapply.
RAMQ has so far recovered about $42,000. Lortie said that individuals will have to pay back all illegally obtained health-care expenses if they want to reclaim their medicare coverage.
“The first objective of these individuals was to obtain Canadian citizenship, not necessarily to obtain free health care,” Lortie explained.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials were not available for comment. But in general, the department refrains from discussing personal cases.
Karine Rivard, press attache to Health Minister Yves Bolduc, said the government continues to have full confidence in RAMQ despite the massive fraud.
“RAMQ has been doing everything it can to fight fraud, from inspections to adding a bar code to the medicare card,” Rivard said. “We can never avoid fraud completely, but the important thing is to react to fraud and to recover money.”
Asked to explain how the fraud could have lasted five years, Lortie replied that the operation was “highly sophisticated and the immigration consultant had many accomplices.”
As part of its response to the fraud, RAMQ established a team of four full-time inspectors in October to investigate suspicious cases. Lortie said RAMQ has taken other measures, but declined to disclose them for fear of tipping off those who want to take advantage of the system.
In 2008-2009, RAMQ reclaimed $1.1 million in fraudulent or irregular claims.
“I don’t want to minimize anything, but $1 million out of a budget of $7.8 billion is not enormous,” Lortie said.