27 Medical Professionals Charged with Health Care Fraud
A nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in six cities today (May 13, 2014) resulted in charges against 90 individuals, including 27 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, for alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $260 million in false billings, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The announcement reminds U.S. health care providers that the Obama Administration continues to target health care providers in its campaign against health care fraud.
The seventh coordinated national Medicare fraud takedown by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations team of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), Federal officials filed charges that accuse the defendants of various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes and money laundering. The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various medical treatments and services, including home health care, mental health services, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment and pharmacy fraud.
Among the defendants charged were 27 medical professionals, including 16 doctors, who Federal officials charge included doctors billing for services that were never rendered, supply companies providing motorized wheelchairs that were never needed, and recruiters paying kickbacks to get Medicare billing numbers of patients. According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, court documents allege that patient recruiters, Medicare beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were 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 conspiring to submit approximately $260 million in fraudulent billings.
In Miami, a total of 50 defendants were charged today and yesterday for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving approximately $65.5 million in false billings for home health care and mental health services, and pharmacy fraud. In one case, two defendants were charged in connection with a $23 million pharmacy kickback and laundering scheme. Court documents allege that the defendants solicited kickbacks from a pharmacy owner for Medicare beneficiary information, which was used to bill for drugs that were never dispensed. The kickbacks were concealed as bi-weekly payments under a sham services contract and were laundered through shell entities owned by the defendants.
Eleven individuals were charged by the Houston Medicare Strike Force. Five Houston-area physicians were charged with conspiring to bill Medicare for medically unnecessary home health services. According to court documents, the defendant doctors were paid by two co-conspirators to sign off on home health care services that were not necessary and often never provided.
Eight defendants were charged in Los Angeles for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare of approximately $32 million. In one case, a doctor was charged for causing almost $24 million in losses to Medicare through his own fraudulent billing and referrals for durable medical equipment, including over 1,000 expensive power wheelchairs, and home health services that were not medically necessary and often not provided.
In Detroit, seven defendants were charged for their roles in fraud schemes involving approximately $30 million in false claims for medically unnecessary services, including home health services, psychotherapy and infusion therapy. In one case, four individuals, including a doctor, were charged in a sophisticated $28 million fraud scheme, where the physician billed for expensive tests, physical therapy and injections that were not necessary and not provided. Court documents allege that when the physician’s billings raised red flags, he was put on payment review by Medicare. He was allegedly able to continue his scheme and evade detection by continuing to bill using the billing information of other Medicare providers, sometimes without their knowledge.
In Tampa, Florida, seven individuals were charged in a variety of schemes, ranging from fraudulent physical therapy billings to a scheme involving millions of dollars in physician services and tests that never occurred. In one case, five individuals were charged for their alleged roles in a $12 million health care fraud and money laundering scheme that involved billing Medicare using names of beneficiaries from Miami-Dade County for services purportedly provided in Tampa area clinics, 280 miles away. The defendants then allegedly laundered the proceeds through a number of transactions involving several shell entities.
In Brooklyn, New York, the Strike Force announced an indictment against Syed Imran Ahmed, M.D., in connection with his alleged $85 million scheme involving billings for surgeries that never occurred; Dr. Ahmed had been arrested last month and charged by complaint. Dr. Ahmed has charged with health care fraud and making false statements. In addition, the Brooklyn Strike Force charged six other individuals, including a physician and two billers who allegedly concocted a $14.4 million scheme in which they recruited elderly Medicare beneficiaries and billed Medicare for medically unnecessary vitamin infusions, diagnostic tests and physical and occupational therapy supposedly provided to these patients.
The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams comprised of attorneys from the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Florida, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of Texas, the Central District of California, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The HEAT Strike Force is 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 joint Department of Justice and HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. Almost 400 law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participated in today’s takedown.
Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged almost 1,900 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for almost $6 billion. Overall, since its inception, the Department of Justice’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged nearly 1,900 individuals involved in approximately $6 billion of fraud. We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to prevent, deter, and prosecute health care fraud. In addition, CMS, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, has suspended enrollments of high-risk providers in five Strike force locations and has removed over 17,000 providers from the Medicare program since 2011.
“Medicare is a sacred compact with our nation’s seniors, and to protect it, we must remain aggressive in combating fraud,” said Attorney General Holder. “This nationwide Medicare Strike Force takedown represents another important step forward in our ongoing fight to safeguard taxpayer resources and to ensure the integrity of essential health care programs. Department of Justice will not tolerate these activities. And we will continue working alongside the Department of Health and Human Services – as well as federal, state, and local partners – to use every appropriate tool and available resource to find, stop, and punish those who seek to take advantage of their fellow citizens.”
In conducting its war against health care fraud, Federal officials credited new tools created under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) with aiding their health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts. Legal reforms and new resources granted under the Affordable Care Act and various other legal changes have beefed up the fraud detection and fighting powers of Federal health care fraud investigators and prosecutors. Examples of these new tools include:
- Tough new rules and sentences for criminals
- Enhanced screening and other enrollment requirements
- Increased coordination of fraud prevention efforts
- Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT)
- New focus on compliance and prevention
- Expanded overpayment recovery efforts
- New durable medical equipment (DME) requirements
- An additional $350 million over 10 years to ramp up anti-fraud efforts
- Greater oversight of private insurance abuses
- Senior Medicare Patrols
“The Affordable Care Act has given us additional tools to preserve Medicare and protect the tens of millions of Americans who rely on it each day,” said Secretary Sebelius. “By expanding our authority to suspend Medicare payments and reimbursements when fraud is suspected, the law allows us to better preserve the system and save taxpayer dollars. Today we’re sending a strong, clear message to anyone seeking to defraud Medicare: You will get caught and you will pay the price. We will protect a sacred trust and an earned guarantee.”
The continuing success of these and other federal health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts continue to demonstrate the need for health care providers and payers to strengthen their compliance practices and documentation to avoid getting caught in the ever tightening health care fraud dragnet.
Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks
In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.
For More Information Or Assistance
If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.
A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.
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