There also seem to be black sheep in the network of private corona test centers in Germany. A possible billing fraud in citizen tests is drawing ever wider circles, the judiciary is investigating. Suspected cases became known in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria.
The federal and state health ministers want to discuss the issue in a switching conference on Monday, as a spokesman for Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said on Sunday.
Spahn announced at the weekend “more random checks”. “Whether with masks or testing – anyone who uses the pandemic to criminally enrich themselves should be ashamed,” wrote the minister in the short message service Twitter. The SPD attacked Spahn, the Greens demanded the improvement of the test regulation, the FDP even a special investigator.
In the past few months, test centers have sprung up like mushrooms. Testing is done unbureaucratically. The Federal Government’s Corona Test Ordinance has provided for such citizen tests since the beginning of March. The federal government bears the costs for at least one rapid test per citizen per week. The test centers receive 18 euros per test.
The central point of contention is the question of who controls the number of tests carried out. The chief executive of the Association of Cities and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, spoke of a typical bluff game: “The federal government shifts responsibility to the associations of statutory health insurance physicians and the states, and they push them back to the federal government,” he told the “Rheinische Post “(Monday).
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“As a client, the federal government is required to ensure that the free citizen tests are adequately monitored,” said Landsberg. “The municipal health authorities cannot do that too, they are already completely overburdened.”
In contrast, the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians sees the health authorities as responsible for the controls. “The technical control of who can carry out such citizen tests and whether these tests are carried out correctly is the responsibility of the health authorities,” said CEO Andreas Gassen of the “Rheinische Post”.
According to the federal ordinance, the statutory health insurance associations would accept the monthly reports of the costs incurred by the registered test providers. “You can only check formal aspects. More is not possible, as the information provided by the provider must not relate to the tested persons for data protection reasons, ”explained Gassen.
Bochum public prosecutor’s office starts an investigation
A lack of control could provide a gateway for billing fraud, as research by WDR, NDR and “Süddeutscher Zeitung” (SZ) had shown. Random samples at a test site in Cologne had shown that instead of 70 samples actually taken, almost 1000 had been billed. Samples in Essen and Münster, among others, have unearthed something similar. The report points to the lack of control on the part of the authorities.
The public prosecutor’s office for economic crime in Bochum started investigations into suspected billing fraud in corona citizen tests, as a spokesman for the authority confirmed on Saturday. The investigation is being carried out against two persons in charge of a company based in Bochum that operates test sites at several locations. The reason for the investigation was therefore the research by WDR, NDR and SZ.
As the public prosecutor’s office confirmed, business premises and private apartments in the Ruhr area were searched. Documents were also confiscated. The authority did not want to give the name of the suspicious company.
In Bavaria, the Ministry of Health is “specifically aware of a case in which the authorities are investigating,” said a ministry spokesman for the dpa on Sunday. He did not want to say which test site it is “because of the ongoing investigation and the still valid presumption of innocence”.
The Cologne health department fears that it is only the tip of the iceberg. There is great concern that this is not the only case, “but that we will be concerned with other cases in the future,” said Johannes Nießen, head of the authorities, on ARD. According to the Federal Ministry of Justice, commercial fraud can be punished with up to ten years imprisonment under the Criminal Code.
According to the “Tagesschau”, health authorities fear that false test reports could falsify the data on the course of the pandemic. For example, from three test locations where WDR, NDR and SZ researched, 25,000 tests were reported within a week, but not a single positive case.
Patient advocates see problems with “criminally organized” test centers
The German Foundation for Patient Protection also sees the poor quality as the biggest problem with “criminally organized” corona test centers. Board member Eugen Brysch told the dpa: “Where such structures exist, the quality of the tests is usually also poor.”
Spahn pointed out that the vast majority of providers of test sites “do it with great commitment, very professionally and also very properly”. The citizen tests were made possible in a very pragmatic way in a situation in which a quick set-up was wanted, said the minister on Saturday in Pretoria during a visit to South Africa. The local authorities decided on operators of test centers such as doctors, pharmacists, the Red Cross or private providers.
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A subsequent control is already planned, stressed Spahn. Providers would have to expect that documents can be checked by the end of 2024. In any case, it was planned to reduce the remuneration soon in view of the larger offer on the market.
The SPD sees Spahn’s responsibility. The parliamentary managing director of the SPD parliamentary group, Carsten Schneider, told the dpa: “After the masks, now the quick tests. The management failure in the Ministry of Health has reached unacceptable proportions. ”
Spahn ignored warnings and advice from members of the coalition factions for the test conditions. “He is responsible for the responsible use of taxpayers’ money and must stop self-service immediately.”
The health policy spokeswoman for the Greens, Maria Klein-Schmeink, told the “Handelsblatt” that Spahn had to “immediately improve the test regulation and close the gaps”. FDP parliamentary group vice Michael Theurer, called for the appointment of a special investigator to clear up the alleged accounting fraud. (dpa)