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Feds Round Up Medicare Fraud Suspects In Miami, Nation

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - From South Florida to Alaska, FBI and Health and Human Services agents fanned out across the country in the last week and arrested more than people they suspect of committing Medicare fraud.

Seventy-three of those arrested were South Florida. They reportedly tried to scam Medicare and Medicaid out of more than $262,567.878.

The charges in South Florida are part of a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in 17 cities that resulted in charges against 243 individuals, including more than 46 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $712 million in false billings.

On Thursday, the Justice Department held a news conference on the arrests.

United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge for FBI Miami and Shimon Richmond, Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General also held a news conference of their own in Miami to discuss the South Florida arrests.

"Here, on the home front, we have charged thirty percent of the total defendants alleged to have participated in these evolving fraud schemes. Together, we have taken a solid stance against those who rob our communities of tax dollars intended to fund government programs that provide essential, quality of life benefits to the elderly and infirm," said Ferrer.

"Health care fraud undercuts our country by driving up health care costs, wasting taxpayer dollars, and diverting Medicare and Medicaid funds designed to pay for legitimate health services. Taxpayers expect their government to fight back hard against such fraud and today's crackdown shows our commitment to protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and the patients served by these government programs," said Richmond.

Various schemes were used to try and bilk Medicare by using the Part D prescription drug program which costs the country billions of dollars every year.

Implemented under the Bush administration in 2006, Part D allows the elderly and disabled to buy prescription drug through pharmacies which are reimbursed by private insurers funded by the Medicare program. However, in the last few years numerous pharmacies have submitted false prescriptions for anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory and other drugs.

In addition to prescription drug fraud, other South Florida scams include billing Medicare for medical equipment , HIV infusion therapy, home healthcare for diabetics, and mental health sessions - all of which were either unnecessary or never delivered.

Some pharmacy owners have even paid kickbacks to patients or patient recruiters to maintain a steady stream of Medicare funding.

Since its inception, the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services' Medicare Strike Force operations in Miami and eight other locations have charged over 2,300 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $7 billion.

Another tool in the government's effort to combat health care fraud is the federal False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered more than $15.2 billion in cases involving health care fraud.

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.

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