HEALTH CARE -- July 16, 2010 at 12:21 PM EDT
Authorities Charge 94 Suspects With Medicare Fraud
Federal authorities charged 94 health care providers with Medicare fraud Friday, and 36 of the accused have been arrested so far. The indictments span the country and include doctors, medical assistants, health care company owners and others in Detroit, Miami, New York and Baton Rouge, La.
The indicted medical workers "have siphoned resources from the most vulnerable amongst us" and "have helped to drive up health care costs," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters in a press conference.
"As today's arrests prove, the federal government is working aggressively and collaboratively to pursue health care criminals around the country," he said.
Those indicted are accused of submitting about $251 million in false Medicare claims, including claims for HIV treatment, medical equipment like wheelchairs, physical therapy and other goods and services that were either unnecessary or never provided.
Suspects in Miami alone are accused of submitting $103 million in false claims, the Miami Herald reports. "This is like a game of whack a mole,'' Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer told the paper. "The numbers are off the charts.''
The arrests were the result of a combined effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. They were announced at a press conference in Miami, held as part of a one-day health care fraud summit.
Holder said the government's aim is to get jail time for the accused, not just fines: "Our intention is to find people and put them in jail, and to make that a deterrent," he told reporters.
The Obama administration has made cracking down on Medicare and Medicaid fraud a central tenet of its focus on health care reform in the past year, and has tied the issue to rising medical costs.
"At a time when families across the country are tightening their belts, they can't afford to pay more for premiums " because of fraud, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters.