Russian Diplomats' Medicaid Fraud Raises Questions About Foreign Officers Accessing Taxpayer Benefits

Congress is digging into how foreign diplomats accessed -- and reportedly defrauded -- federal benefits programs.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) wrote Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday to say he's "deeply troubled" by the reports that dozens of Russian diplomats and their families committed Medicaid fraud while in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, 25 current and former Russian diplomats and 24 of their spouses allegedly participated in a scheme to illegally obtain Medicaid benefits for prenatal care and related costs by underreporting their income or falsely claiming that their children were citizens of the United States, Royce noted. Over the course of nearly a decade, they milked the system of $1.5 million in benefits. The U.S. Attorney alleges that the staff of Russian diplomatic offices in the U.S. supplied false documentation to New York officials in support of the fraudulent Medicaid claims.

"The unsealing of the U.S. Attorney’s criminal complaint raises a number of issues about the Administration’s options for handling this matter and the interagency coordination during the precursor investigation," Royce wrote. "In order to better understand this situation, I would appreciate a detailed, staff-level briefing at the earliest opportunity, as well as written answers to the following questions prior to the meeting."

These questions include how the Obama administration plans to treat the 11 named defendants still in the U.S. "Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted? If not, will the Department declare them persona non grata?"

"How will the Administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, no longer reside in the United States? Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial? If not, will the Department impose a U.S. visa ban on them?" Royce continued. "Will the Administration bill the Russian government for the Medicaid benefits its personnel fraudulently used? If not, how will New York State’s Medicaid program be compensated for the loss?"

The chairman said the case "also raises a number of important questions about government programs that provide benefits to foreign diplomats."

On Dec. 6, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that foreign diplomats in the United States “who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”

"What are the medical programs for which foreign diplomats may be eligible? What are the eligibility criteria? Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have used these programs? What was the total cost of the benefits provided? Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization," Royce wrote.

"Are foreign diplomats eligible for government-funded benefits other than Medicaid (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)? If so, which programs and what are the eligibility criteria? Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have taken advantage of these programs? What was the total cost of the benefits provided?"