Government Teams Recovered $4.3B in FY2013 and $19.2B over the Last 5 Years

Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released the annual Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) Program report showing that for every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations through this and other programs in the last three years, the government recovered $8.10.  This is the highest three-year average return on investment in the 17-year history of the HCFAC Program.

810The government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered a record-breaking $4.3 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, up from $4.2 billion in FY 2012, from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud federal health programs serving seniors or who sought payments from taxpayers to which they were not entitled.  Over the last five years, the administration’s enforcement efforts have recovered $19.2 billion, up from $9.4 billion over the prior five-year period.  Since the inception of the program in1997, the HCFAC Program has returned more than $25.9 billion to the Medicare Trust Funds and treasury.

These recoveries, released today in the annual HCFAC Program report, demonstrate President Obama’s commitment to making the elimination of fraud, waste and abuse, particularly in health care, a top priority for the administration.  This is the fifth consecutive year that the program has increased recoveries over the past year, climbing from $2 billion in FY 2008 to over $4 billion every year since FY 2011.

The success of this joint Department of Justice and HHS effort was made possible in part by the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), created in 2009 to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid and to crack down on individuals and entities that are abusing the system and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars.

“With these extraordinary recoveries, and the record-high rate of return on investment we’ve achieved on our comprehensive health care fraud enforcement efforts, we’re sending a strong message to those who would take advantage of their fellow citizens, target vulnerable populations, and commit fraud on federal health care programs,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “Thanks to initiatives like HEAT, our work to combat fraud has never been more cooperative or more effective.  And our unprecedented commitment to holding criminals accountable, and securing remarkable results for American taxpayers, is paying dividends.”

“These impressive recoveries for the American taxpayer are just one aspect of the comprehensive anti-fraud strategy we have implemented since the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” said HHS Secretary Sebelius.  “We’ve cracked down on tens of thousands health care providers suspected of Medicare fraud. New enrollment screening techniques are proving effective in preventing high risk providers from getting into the system, and the new computer analytics system that detects and stops fraudulent billing before money ever goes out the door is accomplishing positive results – all of which are adding to savings for the Medicare Trust Fund.”

The new authorities under the Affordable Care Act granted to HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) were instrumental in clamping down on fraudulent activity in health care.  In FY 2013, CMS announced the first use of its temporary moratoria authority granted by the Affordable Care Act.  The action stopped enrollment of new home health or ambulance enrollments in three fraud hot spots around the country, allowing CMS and its law enforcement partners to remove bad actors from the program while blocking provider entry or re-entry into these already over-supplied markets.

The Justice Department and HHS have improved their coordination through HEAT and are currently operating Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams in nine areas across the country. The strike force teams use advanced data analysis techniques to identify high-billing levels in health care fraud hot spots so that interagency teams can target emerging or migrating schemes as well as chronic fraud by criminals masquerading as health care providers or suppliers. The Justice Department’s enforcement of the civil False Claims Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act has produced similar record-breaking results.  These combined efforts coordinated under HEAT have expanded local partnerships and helped educate Medicare beneficiaries about how to protect themselves against fraud.

In Fiscal Year 2013, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (46). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

In FY 2013, the Justice Department opened 1,013 new criminal health care fraud investigations involving 1,910 potential defendants, and a total of 718 defendants were convicted of health care fraud-related crimes during the year.  The department also opened 1,083 new civil health care fraud investigations.

The strike force coordinated a takedown in May 2013 that resulted in charges by eight strike force cities against 89 individuals, including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $223 million in false billings. As a part of the May 2013 takedown, HHS also suspended or took other administrative action against 18 providers using authority under the health care law to suspend payments until an investigation is complete.

In FY 2013, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (48). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

In March 2011, CMS began an ambitious project to revalidate all 1.5 million Medicare enrolled providers and suppliers under the Affordable Care Act screening requirements. As of September 2013, more than 535,000 providers were subject to the new screening requirements and over 225,000 lost the ability to bill Medicare due to the Affordable Care Act requirements and other proactive initiatives.  Since the Affordable Care Act, CMS has also revoked 14,663 providers and suppliers’ ability to bill the Medicare program. These providers were removed from the program because they had felony convictions, were not operational at the address CMS had on file, or were not in compliance with CMS rules.

HHS and the Justice Department are leading historic efforts with the private sector to bring innovation to the fight against health care fraud. In addition to real-time data and information exchanges with the private sector, CMS’ Program Integrity Command Center worked with the HHS Office of the Inspector General and the FBI to conduct 93 missions to detect, investigate, and reduce improper payments in FY 2013.

From May 2013 through August 2013, CMS led an outreach and education campaign targeted to specific communities where Medicare fraud is more prevalent.  This multimedia campaign included national television, radio, and print outreach and resulted in an increased awareness of how to detect and report Medicare fraud.

To read today’s report visit http://oig.hhs.gov/publications/docs/hcfac/FY2013-hcfac.pdf

For previous years’ reports visit https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/hcfac/index.asp

For more information on the joint DOJ-HHS Strike Force activities, visit: www.StopMedicareFraud.gov/.

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Medicare Fraud Strike Force Charges 91 Individuals for Approximately $430 Million in False Billing

Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in seven cities have led to charges against 91 individuals – including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals – for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $429.2 million in false billing, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today.

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Sebelius were joined in the announcement of the nationwide takedown by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins, Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Dr. Peter Budetti, Deputy Administrator for Program Integrity of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Today’s enforcement actions reveal an alarming and unacceptable trend of individuals attempting to exploit federal health care programs to steal billions in taxpayer dollars for personal gain,” said Attorney General Holder.  “Such activities not only siphon precious taxpayer resources, drive up health care costs, and jeopardize the strength of the Medicare program – they also disproportionately victimize the most vulnerable members of society, including elderly, disabled and impoverished Americans.”

“Today’s arrests put criminals on notice that we are cracking down hard on people who want to steal from Medicare,” said HHS Secretary Sebelius.  “The health care law gives us new tools to better fight fraud and make Medicare stronger.  In addition to the arrests made today, HHS used new authority from the health care law to stop future payments to many of the health care providers suspected of fraud, saving Medicare resources and taxpayer dollars from being lost to fraud in the first place.”

Dozens of charged individuals were arrested or surrendered in the last 24 hours as indictments were unsealed across the country.  Together, those indictments charge more than $230 million in home health care fraud; more than $100 million in mental health care fraud and more than $49 million in ambulance transportation fraud; and millions more in other frauds.

HHS also suspended or took other administrative action against 30 health care providers following a data-driven analysis and based upon credible allegations of fraud.  Under the Affordable Care Act, HHS is able to suspend payments until the resolution of an investigation.

The joint Department of Justice and HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators and prosecutors designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques.  More than 500 law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the takedown.

The defendants charged are accused of various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, 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 such as home health care, mental health services, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment (DME) and ambulance services.

According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare for treatments that were medically unnecessary and oftentimes 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 submit fraudulent billing to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never provided.  Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners and others charged are accused of conspiring to submit a total of approximately $429.2 million in fraudulent billing.

“Today’s coordinated actions represent one of the largest Medicare fraud takedowns in Department of Justice history, as measured by the amount of alleged fraudulent billings,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “We have made it one of the Department’s missions to hold accountable those who abuse the Medicare program for personal profit.  And there are Medicare fraudsters in prisons across the country – some who will be there for decades – who can attest to our determination, and our effectiveness.”

“Health care fraud leads to higher health care costs and makes quality care more difficult to obtain,” said FBI Associate Deputy Director Perkins. “Working together to stop fraud, as we did today, will ensure that Americans’ hard-earned dollars are used to care for the sick – not to line the pockets of criminals.”

“Today’s coordinated operation demonstrates that law enforcement is flexible enough to address health care fraud in its many evolving forms,” said HHS Inspector General Levinson.  “When home health agencies, durable medical equipment companies, pharmacies, or other health care providers are suspected of breaking the law, they can expect to be caught and held accountable.”

“This is the result of coordinated anti-fraud efforts – including Medicare flagging suspicious activity, efforts between agencies to investigate this criminal activity, and today’s actions by law enforcement and HHS,” said CMS Deputy Administrator for Program Integrity Budetti.  “As we stop payments to these providers suspected of fraud, we continue our efforts to move from a pay-and-chase model to one where we stop fraudsters before they can successfully bill Medicare and Medicaid.”

In Miami, a total of 33 defendants are charged for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving a total of $204.5 million in false billings for home health care, mental health services, occupational and physical therapy, and DME.  In one case, three defendants are charged for participating in a fraud scheme at LTC Professional Consultants and Professional Home Care Solutions Inc. which led to approximately $74 million in fraudulent billing for home health care.  In another case, five defendants are charged for participating in a fraud scheme at Hollywood Pavilion which led to $67 million in fraudulent billing for mental health services.

Sixteen individuals, including three doctors and one licensed physical therapist, are charged in Los Angeles with participating in various fraud schemes involving a total of $53.8 million in false billings.  In one case, four defendants are charged for allegedly participating in a fraud scheme at Alpha Ambulance Inc., which led to approximately $49.2 million in fraudulent billing for ambulance transportation.  The case represents the largest ambulance fraud scheme ever prosecuted by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  According to court documents, the defendants provided beneficiaries ambulance rides that were medically unnecessary.

In Dallas, 14 individuals – including two doctors and two registered nurses – are charged for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving a total of $103.3 million in false billings.  In one case, three defendants – a medical doctor and two registered nurses – are charged with participating in a fraud scheme at Raphem Medical Practice and PTM Healthcare Services which led to approximately $100 million in fraudulent billing for home health care services.  According to court documents, Dr. Joseph Megwa signed approximately 33,000 prescriptions for more than 2,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries from 2006 to 2011.  Many of these Medicare beneficiaries had primary care physicians who never certified home healthcare services for them.  In order to handle the volume of prescriptions, Megwa allegedly signed stacks of documents without reviewing them.

Seven individuals are charged in Houston for their participation in a fraud scheme at a hospital which led to $158 million in fraudulent billing for community mental health center services.  According to court documents, the defendants who served as administrators at the hospital paid kickbacks – in the form of cigarettes, food and coupons redeemable for items available at the hospital’s “country stores” – to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for those beneficiaries’ attendance at the hospital’s partial hospitalization programs (PHP).  Allegedly, beneficiaries watched television, played games and engaged in other non-PHP activities rather than receiving the services for which the hospital billed Medicare.  Previously, on Feb. 22, 2012, the assistant administrator of the hospital, Mohammad Kahn, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and paying kickbacks related to $116 million worth of fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare.  After his guilty plea, an additional $42 million in fraudulent claims were discovered that are included in today’s totals.

In Brooklyn, 15 individuals, including one doctor and four chiropractors, are charged for their alleged participation in various fraud schemes involving a total of $23.2 million in false billings.  In one case, nine defendants, including a medical doctor, are charged with participating in a fraud scheme at Cropsey Medical Care PLLC which led to approximately $13.8 million in fraudulent billing for physical therapy and related services. According to court documents, the defendants paid cash kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for physical therapy that was not medically necessary and on some occasions never provided to beneficiaries.

In Baton Rouge, four defendants, including a licensed practical nurse, are charged for their roles in fraud schemes involving approximately $2.4 million in false claims for medically unnecessary durable medical equipment.

In Chicago, two defendants, including a dermatologist and a psychologist, are charged for their roles in fraud schemes involving, according to court documents, millions of dollars in false claims for medically unnecessary laser treatments and psychotherapy services.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), 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.

Since their inception in March 2007, strike force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,480 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams comprising attorneys from the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Southern District of Florida, the Southern District of Texas, the Northern District of Texas, the Central District of California, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Northern District of Illinois, and the Eastern District of New York, and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units, with assistance from the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the IRS.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

To learn more about HEAT, go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.