The latest Medicare
fraud sweep has netted 90 arrests in six cities involving false billings to the healthcare program of an estimated $260 million.
Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Wednesday more than half of the arrests were in South Florida, long the nation's leader in healthcare fraud
. Arrests were also made in Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Tampa, Florida.
Among those arrested were 27 health professionals, including 16 doctors, as well as some Medicare beneficiaries who authorities say sell their entitlement to the highest bidders. Another emerging fraud trend is misuse of Medicare's prescription drug benefit through shady pharmacies.
"They each tried to use the Medicare program as their own personal ATM," Ferrer told reporters. "This is unacceptable."
Since 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams in nine cities have brought charges against about 1,900 people who falsely billed the taxpayer-funded program more than $6 billion.
The Department of Health and Human Services, meanwhile, has temporarily halted enrollment of providers considered high-risk in five locations and removed 17,000 providers from the Medicare program since 2011, HHS officials said.
David O'Neil, acting chief of the U.S. Justice Department's criminal division, said authorities are using HHS billing data to identify patterns that lead to Medicare fraudsters, as well as traditional law enforcement techniques such as telephone wiretaps, undercover officers and hidden cameras.
"We will bring to justice those who loot our nation's healthcare funds, and we will recover what has been stolen," O'Neil said.