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Justice Department Announces Largest Takedown of Health Care Scammers
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell have announced a nationwide sweep led by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in 36 federal districts, resulting in criminal and civil charges against 301 individuals, including 61 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $900 million in false billings. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is suspending payment to a number of providers using its suspension authority provided in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The coordinated takedown is the largest in history, both in terms of the number of defendants charged and the loss amount.
The defendants are charged with various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the antikickback statutes, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various medical treatments and services, including home health care, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment, and prescription drugs. More than 60 of the defendants arrested are charged with fraud related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit program known as Part D, which is the fastest-growing component of the Medicare program.
According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare and Medicaid for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, patient recruiters, Medicare beneficiaries, and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare. Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners, and others charged are accused of submitting approximately $900 million in fraudulent billing. Some examples follow:
- In the Southern District of Florida, 100 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving approximately $220 million in false billings for home health care, mental health services, and pharmacy fraud. In one case, nine defendants have been charged with operating six different Miami-area home health companies for the purpose of submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, including for services that were not medically necessary and that were based on bribes and kickbacks. In total, Medicare paid the six companies over $24 million as a result of the scheme.
- In the Northern District of Texas, 11 people were charged in cases involving more than $47 million in alleged fraud. In one scheme, a physician allowed unlicensed individuals to perform physician services and then billed Medicare as if he performed them. In addition, the physician certified patients for home health care that was often medically unnecessary. Home health companies submitted approximately $23.3 million in billings to Medicare based on the physician’s fraudulent certifications.
- In the Central District of California, 22 defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare of approximately $162 million. In one case, a doctor was charged with causing almost $12 million in losses to Medicare through his own fraudulent billing, including performing medically unnecessary vein ablation procedures on Medicare beneficiaries.
- In the Eastern District of New York, 10 individuals were charged in six different cases, including five individuals who were charged for their roles in a scheme involving more than $86 million in physical and occupational therapy claims to Medicare and Medicaid. In that case, the defendants are alleged to have filled a network of Brooklyn clinics that they controlled with patients by paying bribes and kickbacks. Once at the clinics, these patients were subjected to medically unnecessary therapy. The defendants then laundered the proceeds of the fraud through more than a dozen shell companies.
Since January 2009, the Justice Department’s Civil Division, along with U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country, has recovered more than $29.9 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $18.3 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice; June 22, 2016.