Suspicion of fraud at test sites circulates | free press

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Berlin/Bochum (dpa) – The network of private corona test sites in Germany has become increasingly dense – but there also seem to be “black sheep” among them.

A possible billing fraud in citizen tests is attracting ever larger circles, the judicial authorities are investigating. Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) announced “more random checks” this weekend.

Whether with masks or tests – anyone who is using the pandemic to criminally enrich themselves should be ashamed of themselves,” the minister wrote in the short message service Twitter. The SPD attacked Spahn, the Greens demanded improvement of the test scheme, the FDP even a special investigator. The German Association of Cities also insists on consequences.

Test centers have sprung up like mushrooms in recent months. Testing is unbureaucratic. The federal government’s corona testing regulation has provided for such citizen tests since the beginning of March. The federal government bears the cost of at least one rapid test per citizen per week. The test centers receive 18 euros per test.

A lack of control could be a gateway for billing fraud, as research by WDR, NDR and “Süddeutscher Zeitung” (SZ) shows. Samples at a test site in Cologne showed that instead of 70 samples actually taken, nearly 1000 had been charged. Samples in Essen and Münster, among others, have revealed something similar. The report points to the lack of control on the part of the authorities.

The Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Crime in Bochum has launched an investigation into suspected billing fraud in corona citizen tests. This was confirmed by a spokesperson for the authority in Düsseldorf. The investigation is being conducted against two executives of a company in Bochum that operates test sites at several locations. The reason for the investigation was therefore the investigation by WDR, NDR and SZ.

As the public prosecutor confirms, business premises and private apartments in the Ruhr area have already been searched. Documents were also seized. The authority declined to give the name of the suspected company.

The Cologne health service fears that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is great concern that this is not the only case, “but that we will deal with other cases in the future,” Johannes Nießen, head of the authorities, told ARD.

According to “Tagesschau”, health authorities also fear that false test reports could falsify data on the course of the pandemic. For example, 25,000 tests were reported within a week from three test locations where WDR, NDR and SZ conducted research, but not a single positive case.

Spahn pointed out that the vast majority of test site providers “do this with great dedication, very professionally and also very correctly”. The minister said in Pretoria during a visit to South Africa that the civilian tests were made possible in a very pragmatic way in a situation where rapid construction was desired. The local authorities decided on test center operators such as doctors, pharmacists, the Red Cross or private providers.

The SPD sees Spahn as responsible. The SPD parliamentary director general, Carsten Schneider, told the dpa: “After the masks, now the rapid tests. The management failure at the Ministry of Health has reached unacceptable proportions.” Spahn ignored warnings and advice from MPs from the coalition factions about the testing conditions. “He is responsible for the responsible use of taxpayers’ money and must immediately stop self-service.”

Greens’ health policy spokeswoman Maria Klein-Schmeink told Handelsblatt that Spahn needed to “immediately improve testing regulations and close the gaps”. FDP deputy parliamentary group Michael Theurer, called for the appointment of a special investigator to clear up the alleged accounting fraud.

The CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel pointed out in the Handelsblatt that for data protection reasons no data was collected from those tested, “so that the invoiced number of tests can hardly be checked”.

The director of the German Association of Cities, Helmut Dedy, told the dpa: “It should quickly become clear how to strengthen controls and whether to change accounting procedures.” A dense network of testing opportunities is important as it allows for more normality in the current phase of the pandemic. “The test centers are doing well. But it is also clear that any suspected fraud must be investigated.”

Dedy continued: “The bills of the tests, which are funded by the federal government, are organized by the associations of statutory health insurance physicians. The federal and state governments must agree with the statutory health insurers on the form in which the bills will be audited.” The health authorities have instructed the testing centers to test and arbitrarily verify compliance with hygiene standards. “On the other hand, they are not involved in processing payments, so you can’t test for this.”

Spahn said another check was already planned. Providers should expect documents to be audited by the end of 2024. In any case, the intention was to reduce the fee soon, given the increased supply on the market.

The German Foundation for Patient Protection sees poor quality as the biggest problem at ‘criminally organized’ corona testing centers. Board member Eugen Brysch told the DPA: “Where such structures exist, the quality of the tests is usually poor as well.”

A spokesman for the federal Justice Department said when asked, “If fraud is suspected, consistent criminal investigation is required.” Commercial fraud is punishable by up to ten years in prison under the Penal Code.