Investigations by a new multiagency strike force have uncovered 34 cases of fraudulent Medicare billing totaling more than $142 million, federal officials announced Wednesday.
Thirty-eight people in southern Florida have been arrested to date in connection with the fraud cases and could face up to 20 years in prison, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced at a news conference.
Charges brought against the defendants include conspiracy to defraud Medicare, criminal false claims and violations of the anti-kickback statutes. The two primary schemes used to defraud the program involved infusion therapy and durable medical equipment suppliers. The work of the strike force is the first step in a multiphase enforcement and regulatory project to reduce the potential for fraud in these areas, Leavitt said.
Proposed actions to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers may cost up to $20 million annually but, in turn, will prevent $2.5 billion in fraud over the same time period, Leavitt said. Efforts by this strike force will expand to other geographic areas where enforcement is needed, he said. It will also change the way HHS deals with the durable medical equipment industry, he added.
The reports coming out of South Florida about durable medical fraud have been troubling, to say the least, and this problem seems ripe for a crackdown, said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who promised his panel would monitor the initiative. -- by Jennifer Lubell