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Medicare’s $5 Billion Ambulance Tab Signals Area of Abuse

The patient smoked cigarettes in the passenger seat of the ambulance every week, chatting with the driver while taxpayers foot the $1,000 bill to drive him four blocks for his dialysis treatment.

The routine was part of a $1.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare by Penn Choice Ambulance Inc., according to an indictment against the Philadelphia company. The case helps explain part of why Medicare paid $5 billion to ambulance companies in 2012, more than went to cancer doctors or orthopedic surgeons, according to newly released federal data.