WASHINGTON (MCT) — A federal strike force charged 91 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals across the country in connection with phony bills totaling nearly $430 million — the latest in a series of busts by the Obama administration to attack rising government losses to health care fraud.
In Los Angeles, 18 people were charged, including three doctors and a licensed physical therapist, in schemes alleged to have cost the government $53.8 million. Four of them were accused of billing the government $49.2 million for ambulance rides in Southern California that were not medically necessary.
“We are fighting back,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday. “Today’s takedown underscores the fact that federal efforts to combat health care fraud have been more strategic, more comprehensive, more effective.”
His comments echoed those by President Barack Obama during the debate Wednesday with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Obama said that, under his administration, “we went after medical fraud in Medicare and Medicaid very aggressively, more aggressively than ever before.”
Since May 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force under the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services has conducted a series of sweeps and arrested more than 1,480 defendants on suspicion of more than $4.8 billion in health care fraud.
Cities targeted for arrests in the last two days were Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Brooklyn and Baton Rouge, La. In Chicago, a dermatologist and psychologist were charged with falsely billing the government for millions of dollars in unneeded laser treatments and psychotherapy services.
In all, the new indictments include more than $230 million in alleged home health care fraud and more than $100 million in alleged community health care schemes.
The Los Angeles defendants were involved in six separate cases alleged to have cost the federal government a total of more than $65 million in false billings to Medicare.
Timothy J. Delaney, acting assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said bills were routinely submitted for “inflated rates of service, or for services that were never provided,” often for elderly patients. These kinds of schemes, Delaney said, end up as “a cost borne by taxpayers.”
According to court documents unsealed Thursday, four people affiliated with Los Angeles-based Alpha Ambulance Inc. submitted more than $49 million in phony billings to Medicare by creating fake documents for ambulance trips. The scheme ran for nearly five years, officials alleged, with the defendants making up reasons for ambulance rides, “even if one did not exist.”