A wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair. A lot of the time, Medicare was fooled. The government paid. Before the scam took off power-wheelchair prescriptions were usually written for patients with serious and advanced illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. But as the scam grew, that changed. “Many more of the diagnoses were things where you sort of go, ‘What?’” said UTMB’s Dr. James Goodwin. Looking in Medicare’s own data, he saw a rise in power wheelchairs prescribed for more common conditions such as arthritis and back pain. “It becomes a very, very strong picture, strongly suggesting there’s a lot of abuse going on there.”