A Justice Department strike force on Thursday charged 91 medical providers, including doctors and nurses, with defrauding $429 million from Medicare through false billings in one of the largest entitlement program crackdowns in history.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the charges, saying investigators were fighting back against the alarming trend of stealing tax dollars from federal entitlement programs.
“Such activities not only siphon precious taxpayer resources, drive up health care costs, and jeopardize the strength of the Medicare program – they also disproportionately victimize the most vulnerable members of society, including elderly, disabled and impoverished Americans,” Holder said.
The announcement comes one day after President Brack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney discussed the need at their first debate to crack down on Medicare fraud, estimated to run in the billions of dollars a year.
The charges were brought by a federal strike force that included federal prosecutors and investigators for the Health and Human Services inspector general, the government's chief watchdog for health care fraud. Suspects were arrested in Baton Rouge, La.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami, and Houston.
"Today's coordinated operation demonstrates that law enforcement is flexible enough to address health care fraud in its many evolving forms," Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson. "When home health agencies, durable medical equipment companies, pharmacies, or other health care providers are suspected of breaking the law, they can expect to be caught and held accountable."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said her agency was also using new authority under the federal health care law to stop future payments to many of the health care providers suspected of fraud.