Hundreds in US Charged in $6B Medical Fraud Schemes

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against 345 people for committing over $6 billion in medical fraud. Those charged include more than 100 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who filed fraudulent claims to federal health care programs and private insurers, according to the Justice Department. The bulk of the fraud — $4.5 billion — was connected to telemedicine, which has surged during the pandemic. For example, the Cleveland Clinic went from averaging 5,000 telemedicine visits a month before the pandemic to 200,000 visits just in April, the Associated Press reported. “Telemedicine can foster efficient, high-quality care when practiced appropriately and lawfully. Unfortunately, bad actors attempt to abuse telemedicine services and leverage aggressive marketing techniques to mislead beneficiaries about their health care needs and bill the government for illegitimate services,” U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell said in a statement. “Unfortunately, audacious schemes such as these are prevalent and often harmful.”  FILE – The U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building is seen in Washington, July 13, 2018.According to the Justice Department, some telemedicine company executives allegedly paid doctors and nurse practitioners to order unnecessary medical equipment, medical tests and pain medications without interacting with a patient or with only a brief telephone conversation with a patient they had never seen.  “Durable medical equipment companies, genetic testing laboratories, and pharmacies then purchased those orders in exchange for illegal kickbacks and bribes and submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and other government insurers,” according to a statement from the Justice Department. In addition to telemedicine fraud, other defendants were charged with more than $845 million worth of fraud related to substance abuse facilities, and more than $806 million was connected to other health care fraud, including the illegal distribution of opioids. “This nationwide enforcement operation is historic in both its size and scope, alleging billions of dollars in health care fraud across the country,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt said in a statement. “These cases hold accountable those medical professionals and others who have exploited health care benefit programs and patients for personal gain.” 
 

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Zimbabwe Officials Blame Bacterial Disease for Elephant Deaths

Zimbabwe parks authority officials say they suspect a bacterial disease called hemorrhagic septicemia is behind the recent deaths of at least 34 elephants in the northwestern part of the country.The elephant deaths, which began in late August, come soon after hundreds of elephants died in neighboring Botswana in mysterious circumstances. Authorities subsequently blamed the deaths on toxins produced by another type of bacterium.FILE – A combination photo shows dead elephants in Okavango Delta, Botswana, May-June, 2020. (Photographs obtained by Reuters)Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director-General Fulton Mangwanya said Tuesday they have discovered 34 dead elephants, but suspect more may be found.  The elephants were found lying on their stomachs, suggesting a sudden death.Mangwanya said the dead elephants were discovered in an area between the Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls in west-central Zimbabwe, suggesting to him the outbreak has been isolated.Mangwanya said postmortems on some of the elephants showed inflamed livers and other organs. Samples have been sent to the UK and South Africa to confirm the type of disease.Experts say that Zimbabwe’s current elephant population could be close to 90,000.Elephants in Botswana and parts of Zimbabwe are at historically high levels — roughly half of the continent’s 400,000 elephants, according to estimates — but elsewhere on the continent, especially in forested areas, many populations are severely depleted, researchers say. 
 

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German Chancellor Imposes New COVID-19 Restrictions

After consulting with Germany’s 16 regional governors, German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday announced new restrictions on the size of gatherings to prevent the country’s coronavirus infection figures from accelerating.At a Berlin news briefing following her virtual meeting with the governors, Merkel said she wants to act regionally and address the virus where it is surging rather than shut down the whole country, which she said should be avoided at all costs.  “In order to achieve this, we must have minimum standards for certain frequencies of infections,” said Merkel.The German chancellor said in places where there are more than 35 new infections per 100,000 residents recorded in a week, the number of people attending gatherings at public or rented facilities should be limited to 50 and no more than 25 should attend events in private homes.She said that where infections hit at least 50 per 100,000 residents, those figures should be cut to 25 and 10 respectively.Merkel said she expects the rate of infection to rise as the change in weather means more people will spend time inside in the coming months. She said the number of daily infections could rise to 19,200 in three months if the rate of infection continues as it has over the past three months.  “This underlines the urgency for us to act,” said Merkel.The chancellor also discouraged travel to high risk areas in Europe in the coming months, saying staying in Germany was a good option. She said low risk European nations such as Italy might be a good option, noting the number of COVID-19 cases are very low there now and “they are acting very carefully.”Johns Hopkins University reports Germany has over 289,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and just over 9,450 deaths.

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Robot Arms Perform Tests to Detect COVID-19

The world recently reached a tragic milestone of one million known deaths linked to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.  Experts say more testing is key to combating the virus’s spread.  A biotech company in Taiwan has developed a robot capable of conducting thousands of COVID tests each day, making it possible to safely revive the economy.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.Camera: Reuters
Producer: Arash Arabasadi     

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COVID-19 Deaths Surpass 1 Million

The COVID-19 death toll has climbed to more than one million people worldwide.  And because of a recent surge of infections in many countries including in Europe and the United States, more coronavirus deaths are expected in the coming months. But there are also signs that death rates are dropping and people who contract the virus now are faring better than those infected early on.  VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo has more.Produced by:  Bakhtiyar Zamanov   

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Ghanaian Oncologists Want More Focus on Colon Cancer

By the time a patient comes to Dr. Clement Edusa with colon cancer, it is often too late.The medical director of the Sweden Ghana Medical Center will see cancer that has been misdiagnosed and spread, as the patient has sought out other treatments, including some from ill-equipped small clinics or herbalists.Edusa said while Ghana does not see many cases of colon cancer, as lifestyles change, he expects to see an increase, and there need to be systems in place to provide detection and affordable treatment.“Definitely, there is going to be an increase,” Edusa said. “But don’t forget that apart from that, you need to have a structure in place to do the screening. So, if you don’t have a national program which sort of pulls in the people to do the screening, you won’t get it early. So, you will have an increase in numbers and people coming late, and of course, more fatalities.”FILE – Chadwick Boseman poses in the press room at the American Music Awards on Nov. 24, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.While fans have been mourning the loss of American actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer a month ago, a beloved actor and preacher in Ghana also met this fate this year.Bernard Nyarko’s son Gideon said his dad’s illness was gradual. By the time he got his colon cancer diagnosis, doctors could do little, as it had spread.“He went to the hospital, but they were not able to diagnose the main source of his illness,” Nyarko said. “They were linking it to other sorts of illnesses. It was later that we discovered it was colon cancer. That was 2019.”When Gideon saw images of Boseman’s weight loss, he saw the similarities of how his own father looked toward the end.Gideon Kankam Nyarko with his late father, Ghanaian actor Bernard Nyarko who died this year of colon cancer. (Courtesy of Gideon Kankam Nyarko)He hopes both his father’s case and that of Boseman will create awareness of the need for early detection and better training in health services.Some organizations in Ghana have taken up this mantle.Cancer Support Network Ghana tries to get cancer survivors to speak out to encourage others to go for screenings, to ultimately lower fatality rates in Ghana, said oncology nurse Eric Brobbey.“People think that when you have this cancer you’re going to die, but there are people who have lived for many years, Brobbey said. “So, when they come out to share their stories, it encourages others to also seek treatment.”Ibrahim Rauf of the Zurak Cancer Foundation works to increase cancer awareness in low-income communities, in Accra, Ghana, Sept. 26, 2020. (Stacey Knott/VOA)Ibrahim Rauf from the Zurak Cancer Foundation focuses on low-income communities, advocating prevention, education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.“The lifestyles that expose people to cancers kind of run through, regardless of which cancer you are referring to,” Rauf said. “So, we might not be heavily focused on colon cancer now, but then we believe the awareness we are creating is giving people the opportunities to adopt lifestyles that save them from it.”The ultimate hope is that more people will be aware of the signs and risks of cancers, including colon cancer, and that eventually all screenings, diagnoses and treatments will be funded by the government. 

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Amazon Launches Trial of Pay-by-Palm Device

Need to pay for some groceries? No problem, just wave your palm. That could be the new mode of payment at Amazon Go stores if current trials of its new technology in Seattle, Washington, are successful.   The technology, known as Amazon One, is a “free, contactless service that lets you use your palm to pay, enter or identify yourself,” according to its website. The product, which is undergoing trials at two Go stores in Seattle, will allow customers to enter their credit card details and cell phone number and scan their palm or palms for distinct details such as “surface area, lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns” on a biometric device. The individual palm details are then used to create a customer’s unique palm signature, and Amazon is counting on that to protect customer information. The e-commerce company assures customers that the Amazon One device does not store information. “We treat your palm signature just like other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using best-in-class technical and physical security controls,” according to the website.  Once sign-up is complete, customers can purchase goods and services with their palm prints by hovering over the payment device. It will also allow customers to use their palms as a form of ID, which allows them to enter Go stores without a code. If customers change their minds about using the service, Amazon says it will completely delete their information. “Amazon will permanently delete your palm signature from Amazon’s systems after completion of any remaining transactions,” the website says. “Your Amazon One ID will also be automatically deleted if you do not interact with an Amazon One device for two years.” Amazon says it hopes to replicate the technology in all of its Go stores after its pilot use in Seattle and that it looks forward to other retailers signing up for the service.  

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Scientists Claim Discovery of Multiple Liquid Water Lakes on Mars 

A team of scientists studying data from a satellite orbiting Mars say they have discovered evidence of several lakes of what they believe is salty, liquid water beneath the surface of the planet’s south pole.The discovery, detailed in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, expands upon a tentative finding in 2018, which was made using data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express satellite.A radar instrument known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) produced evidence of what astronomers believed was a large saltwater lake under the ice at Mars’s south pole, a finding that was met with excitement and some skepticism at the time.Since then, the same group of scientists examined 10 years’ worth of radar images sent from the spacecraft and found not only more evidence confirming the original salt lake, but enough for at least three more lying underneath the Martian surface.Confirming the existence of liquid water on Mars is significant, in that it could provide a possible habitat for life.The new evidence came after researchers examined over 100 radar images taken by the satellite from 2010 through 2019. The scientists saw what seemed to be several subglacial liquid bodies ranging in size from just over 19 kilometers across to as small as just under 5 kilometers.The average temperature on Mars is around minus 26 degrees Celsius, far too cold for water to remain liquid at the surface. But the researchers believe the lakes maintain their liquid state due to their high concentrations of salt. Some scientists believe Mars was once a wet, warm world and may even have hosted life forms at some point in its early history. But over time, the planet’s atmosphere was stripped away because it lacks a magnetic field like Earth’s, making it seemingly inhospitable.This latest discovery suggests that some pockets of the Martian terrain may be habitable and could contain some form of microbial life that escaped from the planet’s freezing surface to the waters beneath. 

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TikTok Launches US Election Guide

Chinese-owned video sharing platform TikTok says it is creating a guide “to protect against misinformation” during the 2020 U.S. elections. In a blog post Tuesday, the company said its guide would connect “100 million Americans with trusted information about the elections from the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, SignVote, and more.” “Our The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.TikTok, which is especially popular with younger people, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. TikTok has sought to alleviate U.S. concerns over privacy issues by forming a partnership with two U.S. companies, Oracle and WalMart. The deal has not been finalized, and there have been conflicting statements among the parties about how much of the new venture each company would own.  The Trump administration was moving forward to ban TikTok from app stores, but on Sunday, a judge blocked an order to prevent app stores from distributing it.  The judge gave lawyers for TikTok and the administration until Wednesday to meet and propose a schedule for further proceedings in the case.   
 

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British Company Testing Jet Suits For Use During Emergencies

A British jet suit company has teamed with a paramedic service to test the flying suits’ capabilities for emergency use in Britain’s mountainous northern lake district.Gravity Industries released video Tuesday of a recent test of its jet suit in simulated rescue situations in northwest Britain’s vast Lake District National Park in Cumbria.The jet suit company teamed up with local paramedic team Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), which says reaching walkers in distress is one of their biggest challenges.In one test simulation, a paramedic in a jet suit – which, in this case, was test pilot and Gravity Industries founder Richard Browning – was sent up a mountain in a scenario in which a 10-year-old girl had fallen from cliffs and sustained a serious leg injury.The paramedic, following coordinates given for the location of the casualty, follows a hiking trial up the steep, rocky terrain, traveling at about 51 kilometers per hour (kph) and reaches the scene in 90 seconds, traveling a distance that might have taken a rescuer as long as 25-30 minutes on foot.GNAAS director Andy Mawson, who reached out to Gravity Industries about using their jet suit for emergency services, says its lifesaving potential “is just huge.”The suit has an altitude limit of 3,658 meters, easily surpassing the height of the Lake District’s – and Britain’s – highest peak of 978 meters.Browning launched Gravity Industries in March 2017 and has since flown more than 100 flight events across 30 countries. 

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