Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll is said to be looking into a case of potential disability fraud in Puerto Rico associated with the recent closing of an undisclosed plant that left 300 jobless, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The information surfaced during an audience of disability examiners Aug. 30, when he reportedly said that shortly after the layoffs “290 of the 300 former employees applied for Social Security disability benefits and they all used the same doctor, who lived far from the plant,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
O’Carroll did not identify the doctor or the plant. However, major plant closings on the island that have left hundreds jobless include Cordis LLC in San Germán, Bristol-Myers in Manatí, and Pfizer in Caguas.
“The office of the inspector general is continuing to pursue any number of fraud allegations in Puerto Rico related to the Social Security disability program,” Jonathan Lasher, an assistant inspector general at the agency, told the WSJ.
The investigation is the latest step the Social Security Administration is taking in its close oversight of the island, where it is reportedly easier to land disability benefits in comparison to the rest of the 50 U.S. states. Last year, the agency granted benefits in 63.4 percent of its initial applications on the island, compared to Arizona, for example where it granted 35.6 percent of the cases.
Nine of the 10 top U.S. zip codes for workers collecting Social Security disability benefits are in Puerto Rico, the WSJ reported, citing U.S. government data.
The federal agency has reportedly contacted the local government in connection with the investigation.
Health Secretary Lorenzo González told the WSJ the government “strongly supports the effort to investigate this case and any incident of abuse, and will partner with federal officials to eliminate fraud in not only the disability program, but in other federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”
“As with any other federal investigation involving fraud with a federal program, if a physician is found to be performing unlawfully, we will move swiftly at the local level through the state licensing board to take whatever action is needed to halt the abuse,” González told the WSJ.