WASHINGTON - A nationwide law enforcement crackdown has resulted in charges against 91 people including doctors and other medical professionals for what authorities described as the largest bust for Medicare fraud in U.S. history, allegedly participating in schemes involving $295 million in false billing.
"At various positions, nurses and physicians violated their professions as well as the public trust," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters, saying that charges included kickback schemes and money laundering.
"The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various treatments and services that were not medically necessary - and, oftentimes, were never even provided," said the attorney general.
Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius say charges were filed in Baton Rouge, La.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles and Miami.
Eleven of the people charged were doctors, three were nurses and 10 were licensed health professionals.
Over half the defendants 46 and $160 million of the total in phony claims announced Wednesday came from South Florida, still leading the nation in Medicare fraud.
In Miami, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said investigators noticed a new twist in which people who already were receiving Medicare disability checks were recruited with promises they could live in a halfway house in South Florida as long as they agreed to receive mental health services they did not need. Many were addicted to drugs or alcohol, and some were homeless, and Ferrer said they would be threatened with eviction if they did not participate in the fraud scheme.
"They were already in the system. They were lured in by the promise of having housing. It was, `Come and have a fresh start in Miami,"' Ferrer said.
That particular scheme and other frauds, operated out of an entity called Biscayne Milieu, accounted for $50 million of the fraudulent Medicare claims, prosecutors said. It provided no legitimate services.
"It was a complete fraud," Ferrer said.
In Houston, two people were charged with fraud schemes involving $62 million in false claims for home health care and medical equipment. One defendant allegedly sold beneficiary information to 100 Houston-area home health care agencies. The home agencies used the information to bill Medicare for services that were unnecessary or never provided.
In Baton Rouge, La., a doctor, nurse and five other co-conspirators were charged with billing Medicare more than $19 million for skilled nursing and other home health services that were not necessary or never provided.
The attorney general said that those arrested are jeopardizing the integrity of the nation's health care system. Sebelius called the law enforcement initiative a powerful warning to those who would try to defraud taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries.
(Last year, CBS' "60 Minutes" broadcast an interview with a Medicare scammer, who explained how easy it was to defraud the government.)
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Video: Watch the "60 Minutes" segment
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