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South Carolina agency changes name, doubles down on mission

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(The Center Square) — A partially federally funded South Carolina Agency is changing its name as it doubles down on its enforcement of crimes targeting the state’s vulnerable adult population.

South Carolina’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is changing its name to the Vulnerable Adults and Medicaid Provider Fraud Unit. State officials said the agency experienced a 30% increase in reports from law enforcement thanks to an outreach effort targeting local agencies over the past two years.

The fraud unit receives three-quarters of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a nearly $2.7 million grant for fiscal 2024. South Carolina taxpayers fund the remaining $899,546 in fiscal 2024.

“This office historically has investigated and prosecuted crimes against vulnerable adults, but a lot of people have no idea we even do that,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement released on the heels of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. “So today, we are doubling our efforts by increasing awareness through outreach.”

Citing local law enforcement agencies’ training and manpower issues, the unit works with law enforcement to provide training and take case referrals. Its cases, which stretch across the Palmetto State, include nurses stealing prescriptions and replacing them with over-the-counter medications and facility administrators locking residents in a room without access to food, water, prescriptions or air conditioning.

A September 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General found federal law enforcement agencies “reported positive, cooperative relationships and held the South Carolina MFCU in high respect.” However, the audit noted “that low staff levels and significant turnover contributed to large caseloads for Unit staff.”

Between fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2020, the unit reported 83 indictments, 47 convictions and 40 civil settlements and judgments. It also reported recovering more than $27.9 million during that timeframe.

According to the audit, fraud units operated in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. New units receive a federal grant to cover 90% of their expenditures, while other units receive grants for 75% of costs.

In fiscal 2020, federal and state expenditures for the units totaled roughly $306 million, with federal taxpayers footing the bill for $229 million.