The U.S. attorney's office in Dallas is marshaling forces from five other federal agencies to crack down on an estimated $1 billion in healthcare fraud in northern Texas.
This week, officials from the FBI, Postal Service, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Defense and HHS will meet with U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins to talk about coordinating healthcare fraud investigations in the region.
A "multi-agency approach" has worked well with other far-reaching fraud investigations in the banking and savings and loan industries, Mr. Coggins said.
Now, these agencies are turning their attention to healthcare fraud, he added. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has told federal prosecutors that investigating healthcare fraud should be a high priority, Mr. Coggins said. "She hasn't ordered us to do it, but we've gotten strong directives about it," he added.
Healthcare providers who are found guilty of healthcare fraud won't get away with only a slap on the wrist, warned Bill Brown, director of Coopers & Lybrand's Southwest fraud investigations practice group, which helps providers head off troubles involving fraud. Mr. Brown, who worked for the FBI for nine years, trained about 300 FBI agents in ferreting out white-collar healthcare fraud before he joined Coopers & Lybrand in January.
"You make a few examples, and everybody else straightens up," Mr. Brown said about the FBI's philosophy. He added that the FBI typically wants to prosecute individuals rather than recoup fines.
"We burned a few guys at the stake," Mr. Brown recalled. "They'd come in with their checkbooks in hand, and we'd say, `You don't understand. We're after your butt."'
This isn't the first time several federal agencies have worked together to investigate alleged healthcare fraud. Last August, hundreds of federal agents seized documents at the corporate headquarters of National Medical Enterprises headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., as well as its psychiatric hospitals and regional offices (Aug 30, 1993, p. 3). Those raids were coordinated by the same five federal agencies.
So far, no indictments have resulted from the NME raids. Last week, Mr. Coggins said he couldn't comment on the progress of that investigation.
However, the NME case is just one of several large investigations under way. Mr. Coggins said his office will work on cases in a 100-county area in northern Texas, as well as pursuing national investigations.