More Than 400 Charged in Billion-Dollar Health Fraud Schemes

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, speaks about opioid addiction during a July 13, 2017, news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CN) — Federal prosecutors charged more than 400 people on Thursday with taking part in health care fraud and opioid scams that totaled $1.3 billion in false billing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced.

Sessions called the collective action the “largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history,” and said it indicates that some doctors, nurses and pharmacists “have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients.”

Among the 412 charged are six Michigan doctors accused of a scheme to prescribe unnecessary opioids, fraudulently billing Medicare to the tune of $164 million.

“One fake rehab facility for drug addicts in Palm Beach is alleged to have recruited addicts with gift cards, visits to strip clubs, and even drugs-enabling the company to bill for over $58 million in false treatments and tests,” Sessions said at a Thursday morning press conference.

Altogether there are 41 federal districts represented in the new charges. Justice Department officials said more than 120 people of those charged were involved in prescribing and distributing narcotics.

“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” Sessions said. “They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves, often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start.”

The charges announced today focus on the manipulation of insurance claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, which serves members of the U.S. armed forces, retired veterans and their families.

Prosecutors say the false claims were for either medically unnecessary services or for services never rendered at all. In return for falsifying claims and making unnecessary medical visits, the patients would often receive cash or unnecessary prescriptions. Meanwhile the government programs were allegedly billed for unnecessary drugs that were never purchased or never given to the patients.

A joint initiative of the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services called Medicare Fraud Strike Force headed the underlying investigation. Over the last 10 years of its existence, according to Justice Department reports, the task force has brought charges against more than 3,500 defendants who “collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.”

Attorney General Sessions emphasized the continuing attention that health fraud requires. “While today is a historic day, the department’s work is not finished,” he said. “In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are.”

Sessions likewise emphasized that American taxpayers bear the brunt of such fraud, which likewise exploits the ongoing epidemic of opioid and prescription-drug abuse.

The opioid-related charges against 120 defendants today make “this also the largest opioid-related fraud takedown in American history,” Sessions added.

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