Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today that a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in eight cities has resulted in charges against 89 individuals, including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $223 million in false billings.
Attorney General Holder and Secretary Sebelius were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko, Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Deputy Administrator and Director of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Program Integrity Peter Budetti.
This coordinated takedown was the sixth national Medicare fraud takedown in Strike Force history. In total, almost 600 individuals have been charged in connection with schemes involving almost $2 billion in fraudulent billings in these national takedown operations alone. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.
Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $5 billion. In addition, CMS, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
The joint Department of Justice and HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. Approximately 400 law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units and other state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the takedown.
"Today's announcement marks the latest step forward in our comprehensive efforts to combat fraud and abuse in our health-care systems," said Attorney General Holder. "These significant actions build on the remarkable progress that the HEAT has enabled us to make -- alongside key federal, state, and local partners -- in identifying and shutting down fraud schemes. They are helping to deter would-be criminals from engaging in fraudulent activities in the first place. And they underscore our ongoing commitment to protecting the American people from all forms of health-care fraud, safeguarding taxpayer resources and ensuring the integrity of essential health-care programs."
"The Affordable Care Act has given us additional tools to preserve Medicare and protect the tens of millions of Americans who rely on it each day," said Secretary Sebelius. "By expanding our authority to suspend Medicare payments and reimbursements when fraud is suspected, the law allows us to better preserve the system and save taxpayer dollars. Today we're sending a strong, clear message to anyone seeking to defraud Medicare: You will get caught and you will pay the price. We will protect a sacred trust and an earned guarantee."
The defendants charged are accused of various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes and money laundering. The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various medical treatments and services, primarily home health care, but also mental health services, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment (DME) and ambulance services.
According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, court documents allege that patient recruiters, Medicare beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent billing to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed. Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners and others charged are accused of conspiring to submit a total of approximately $223 million in fraudulent billing.
"We have made it part of our core mission at the Department of Justice to hold accountable those who steal from the Medicare program to line their own pockets," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. "There are Medicare fraudsters in prisons across the country -- some who will be there for decades -- who can attest to our determination, and our effectiveness."
"We all feel the effects of health care fraud," said FBI Assistant Director Hosko. "It leads to higher health care costs and makes it harder for seniors and those who are ill to get the care they need. The FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to preventing and prosecuting health care fraud at all levels. But we need the public's help. Take the time to be aware of fraud and call law enforcement if you see anything suspicious included in the billings to your insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid or have any unusual encounters with health care providers. We can work together to ensure your hard-earned dollars are used to care for the sick and not to line the pockets of criminals."
"Taxpayers expect us to work harder and smarter, and that is exactly what happened across the nation today," said HHS Inspector General Levinson. "In addition to the work of my agents and other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, investigators from nine other IG offices joined us today. Working together we can break down silos, pool expertise, reduce costs, and the successful result speaks for itself."
"Today's takedown is the result of dedicated commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to root out fraud in the Medicare program," said CMS Program Integrity Deputy Administrator Budetti. "This collaboration has been strengthened by the Affordable Care Act, which provided CMS with the tools it needs to stop the flow of money while working to rid our programs of fraud, waste and abuse."
In Miami, a total of 25 defendants, including two nurses, a paramedic and a radiographer, were charged today and yesterday for their participation in various fraud schemes involving a total of $44 million in false billings for home health care, mental health services, occupational and physical therapy, DME and HIV infusion. In one case, three defendants were charged for participating in a $20 million home health fraud scheme involving a home health agency, Trust Care Health Services. Court documents allege that the defendants bribed Medicare beneficiaries for their Medicare information, which was used to bill for home health services that were not rendered or that were not medically necessary. According to court documents, the lead defendant spent much of the money from the scheme, and purchased multiple luxury vehicles, including two Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a Bentley.
Eleven individuals were charged by the Baton Rouge Strike Force. Five individuals were charged today, including two doctors, in New Orleans by the Baton Rouge Strike force for participating in a different $51 million home health fraud scheme. According to court documents, the defendants recruited beneficiaries, offering cash and other incentives in exchange for their Medicare information, which was used to bill medically unnecessary home health services. The Baton Rouge Strike Force also announced a superseding indictment and an information charging six individuals, including another doctor, with over $30 million in fraud in connection with a community mental health center called Shifa Texas. These charges come on top of charges brought against the owners and operators of Shifa Baton Rouge, a related community mental health center which is at the center of an alleged $225 million scheme charged in an earlier indictment.
In Houston, two individuals, including a nurse and a social worker, were charged today with fraud schemes involving at total of $8.1 million in false billings for home health care. The defendants, who are brother and sister, allegedly used patient recruiters to obtain Medicare beneficiary information that they then used to bill for services that were not medically necessary and not provided.
Thirteen defendants were charged in Los Angeles for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare of approximately $23 million. In one case, three individuals allegedly billed Medicare for more than $8.7 million in fraudulent billing for DME. According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly paid illicit kickbacks to patient recruiters to bribe beneficiaries to participate in the scheme. Once the individuals provided their Medicare information to recruiters, doctors and medical clinics conspiring with the defendants allegedly wrote prescriptions for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs, which they sold to the defendants for illegal kickbacks.
In Detroit, 18 defendants, including two doctors, a physician's assistant and two therapists, were charged for their roles in fraud schemes involving approximately $49 million in false claims for medically unnecessary services, including home health, psychotherapy and infusion therapy. In one case, three individuals were charged in a $12 million scheme where they allegedly held themselves out to be licensed physicians -- which they were not -- and signed prescriptions for drugs and documents about purported psychotherapy they provided.
In Tampa, nine individuals were charged in a variety of schemes, ranging from pharmacy fraud health care-related money laundering. In one case, four individuals were charged for their alleged roles in establishing and operating four supposed healthcare clinics in Tampa, Fl. -- Palmetto General Health Care Inc., United Healthcare Center Inc., New Imaging Center Inc. and Lord Physical Rehabilitation Center Inc. -- which they allegedly used to steal more than $2.5 million from Medicare for surgical procedures that were never performed. The defendants allegedly billed Medicare for surgical procedures used to treat patients with high blood pressure by collapsing veins in the legs, but they did not actually perform the procedures.
In Chicago, seven individuals were charged, including two doctors, with a variety of health care fraud schemes.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., four individuals, including two doctors, were charged in fraud schemes involving $9.1 million in false claims. In one case, three additional individuals were allegedly involved in what is now alleged to be a $15 million scheme where massages by unlicensed therapists were billed to Medicare as physical therapy. Six defendants were previously charged in the scheme.
The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams comprised of attorneys from the Fraud Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Southern District of Florida, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of Texas, the Central District of California, the Middle District of Louisiana; the Northern District of Illinois, and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
To learn more about HEAT, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.