Global Survey Finds Widespread Fraud in Healthcare During COVID-19

May 5, 2020

NEMEXIS, an international anti-fraud consulting firm based in Berlin, reported fraud and corruption affecting healthcare and healthcare systems spurred whistleblower activity in half of the 58 countries in the survey.

Fraud and corruption in healthcare services around the world significantly reduced delivery of COVID-19-related healthcare during the month of April and contributed to COVID-19 mortality in every third country surveyed, according to a new study from NEMEXIS.

NEMEXIS, an international anti-fraud consulting firm based in Berlin, reported fraud and corruption affecting healthcare and healthcare systems spurred whistleblower activity in half of the 58 countries in the survey.

“This is currently the largest survey on fraud, waste, and corruption affecting healthcare systems across the globe while the world battles COVID-19,” says Dr. Paul Milata, the managing partner of NEMEXIS and one of the authors of the survey. “It is the first study based almost exclusively on input from anti-fraud specialists-one of the professional groups most likely to have relevant information on the issue at hand. The survey shows areas of common concern where further investigation is needed.”

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Suppression of whistleblowers who gave early warnings of the virus was mentioned in almost a quarter of the countries surveyed. According to the report, whistleblower suppression is the single most important fraud-related factor in the spread of COVID-19, as other studies have amply demonstrated the paramount importance of early detection.

“With retaliation against COVID-19 healthcare whistleblowers appearing in almost half of the countries in this survey, the time is now for national governments to enact new whistleblower protections," says John Kostyack, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center based in Washington, D.C.. "Silencing whistleblowers means that problems with delivering COVID-19 healthcare services are being left unaddressed. We cannot allow a single individual to die of COVID-19 because of suppression of healthcare industry whistleblowers.”

The most widespread problem outlined in the report is fraud involving personal-protective equipment or PPE, which appeared in 81% of the countries surveyed. Black markets were reported from 62% of countries, followed by embezzlement, faulty equipment, and cyber-attacks.
The survey assessed the impact of fraud and corruption in healthcare delivery during the COVID-19 crisis from April 4 - 22, concluding the rates of such fraud were high and significant. Lockdown measures with enormous economic and political consequences were introduced across the planet in order to maintain high healthcare deliveries, meaning the impact of this fraud reached far beyond the healthcare industry and those dependent on its services.

The survey focused on seven core issues: fraud involving PPE and ventilators, the existence of black markets and faulty equipment, cyber-attacks on healthcare systems, the embezzlement of healthcare funds, and bribes taken by medical personnel. The survey reasoned that these problems would result in the emergence of whistleblowers, strikes, and death.

All of these problems were reported in the United States. Respondents noted that internal issues plagued U.S. healthcare establishments with administrators not allowing for the proper use of PPE to save money due to scarcity of equipment and penalizing employees who speak out by retaliating against them.

A total of 80% of respondents thought the impact of fraud and corruption on their country’s healthcare system was “very important” or “important.” 

The 58 countries surveyed represent 76% of the global population with 92% of the 512 respondents being anti-fraud professionals working for private or governmental entities.

The report’s chief recommendation is that an aggressive anti-fraud strategy must become an integral part of fighting COVID-19. In particular, national healthcare systems should maintain or share multi-disciplinary anti-fraud capacities and rapid response units. Critically, supra-national, medical, anonymous, two-way whistleblower channels aimed at early warning whistleblower must be introduced and widely advertised, the report says.