Most Defendants Charged and Largest Alleged Loss Amount in Strike Force History
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced today an unprecedented 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. Twenty-three state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is suspending payment to a number of providers using its suspension authority provided in the Affordable Care Act. This coordinated takedown is the largest in history, both in terms of the number of defendants charged and loss amount.
Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Burwell were joined in the announcement by Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, FBI Associate Deputy Director David Bowdich, Inspector General Daniel Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Acting Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), and Deputy Administrator and Director of CMS Center for Program Integrity Shantanu Agrawal M.D.
The defendants announced today are charged with various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback 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 (DME) 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 overall.
“As this takedown should make clear, health care fraud is not an abstract violation or benign offense – It is a serious crime,” said Attorney General Lynch. “The wrongdoers that we pursue in these operations seek to use public funds for private enrichment. They target real people – many of them in need of significant medical care. They promise effective cures and therapies, but they provide none. Above all, they abuse basic bonds of trust – between doctor and patient; between pharmacist and doctor; between taxpayer and government – and pervert them to their own ends. The Department of Justice is determined to continue working to ensure that the American people know that their health care system works for them – and them alone.”
“Millions of seniors depend on Medicare for essential health coverage, and our action shows that this administration remains committed to cracking down on individuals who try to defraud the program,” said Secretary Burwell. “We are continuing to put new tools and additional resources to work, including $350 million from the Affordable Care Act, for health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts. Thanks to the hard work of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, we are making progress in addressing and deterring fraud and delivering results to help ensure Medicare remains strong for years to come.”
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 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 submitting a total of approximately $900 million in fraudulent billing.
“The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a model of 21st-Century data-driven law enforcement, and it has had a remarkable impact on health care fraud across the country,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “As the cases announced today demonstrate, the Strike Force’s strategic approach keeps us a step ahead of emerging fraud trends, including drug diversion, and fraud involving compounded medications and hospice care.”
“These criminals target the most vulnerable in our society by taking money away from the care of the elderly, children and disabled,” said Associate Deputy Director Bowdich. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners and the public to stop fraud and ensure that healthcare dollars are used to help the sick, and not line the pockets of criminals.”
“While it is impossible to accurately pinpoint the true cost of fraud in federal health care programs, fraud is a significant threat to the programs’ stability and endangers access to health care services for millions of Americans,” said Inspector General Levinson. “As members of the joint Strike Force, OIG will continue to play a vital role in tracking down these criminals and seeing that justice is done.”
“DCIS, in partnership with our fellow federal investigative agencies, will continue to uncompromisingly investigate and bring to justice the people who perpetrate these criminal acts,” said Acting Director O’Reilly. “Their actions threaten to cripple our vital national health care industry, and place our citizenry at risk. We will remain vigilant.”
“Taxpayers and Congress provided CMS with resources to adopt powerful monitoring systems that fight fraud, safeguard program dollars, and protect Medicare and Medicaid,” said Deputy Administrator and Center for Program Integrity Director Agrawal. “The diligent use of innovative data analytic systems has contributed or led directly to many of the law enforcement cases presented here today. CMS is committed to its collaboration with these agencies to keep federally-funded health care programs safe and strong for all Americans.”
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. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations and since its inception in March 2007 has charged over 2,900 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $8.9 billion.
Including today’s enforcement actions, nearly 1,200 individuals have been charged in national takedown operations, which have involved more than $3.4 billion in fraudulent billings. Today’s announcement marks the second time that districts outside of Strike Force locations participated in a national takedown, and they accounted for 82 defendants charged in this takedown.