In what is being described as a major takedown, authorities have nabbed numerous individuals alleged to have been engaging in massive Medicare fraud, defrauding the program of over $450 million.
Yesterday U.S. government officials held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce the charges against dozens of individuals, described by an FBI press release as including "doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals."
The bust of the Medicare scam was conducted by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations, and 107 individuals were nabbed in seven U.S. cities: Tampa, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Houston, Miami and Chicago.
This is being reported as the highest dollar amount ever to be uncovered in one single bust for Medicare fraud in the history of the U.S.
Authorities say the individuals participated in a major Medicare fraud scheme that bilked about $452 million. The FBI statement said, "This coordinated operation involved the highest amount of false Medicare billings in a single takedown in strike force history."
The defendants are alleged to have committed a range of fraudulent acts which included doctored patient charts, billings for medical equipment, charging Medicare for services not rendered, fraud involving prescription drugs and ambulance schemes.
Some of the accused shut down businesses, only to relocate and open up shop somewhere else. Others reportedly even went as far as visiting the U.S. Attorney's Office to review and ask for copies of documents, stealing said evidence and destroying it.
FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce said, “Health care fraud is not a victimless crime. Every person who pays for health care benefits, every business that pays higher insurance costs to cover employees, every taxpayer who funds Medicare—all are victims.”
According to CBS News, breaking up fraud will be "key to paying for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul." Reportedly, early on President Obama told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to place fraud prevention high on the to-do list, stating it was cabinet-level priority.
MSNBC reported the Dept. of Health and Human Services also noted the agency is investing in proactive methods to combat fraud, meaning it'd be caught before any payments go out.
CBS noted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services invested in information systems that cost $77 million; said system is designed to detect trends in billing patterns and point to fraudulent activity.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Medicare and Medicaid spending is anticipated to cost about $1 trillion in 2012.
"Medicare fraud also exposes some of our most vulnerable citizens to identity theft, and, in some cases, endangers patients' lives," said Gary Cantrell, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations for HHS. "The indictments announced today demonstrate that we're fighting back."
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a joint project of the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) and the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the support of several agencies on the federal, state, and local levels; this coalition was conceived in 2007. To date, the team has charged over 1,330 defendants who collectively billed over $4 billion to Medicare with the intent to defraud.