Thursday, July 30, 2009
MIAMI, July 29 -- Federal authorities arrested more than 30 suspects, including doctors, and were seeking others in a major Medicare fraud sweep Wednesday in New York, Louisiana, Boston and Houston.
More than 200 agents worked on the $16 million bust, which included 12 search warrants at health-care businesses and homes across the Houston area, where the bulk of the arrests were made.
Federal authorities say those businesses were giving patients "arthritis kits," which were nothing more than expensive orthotics that included knee and shoulder braces and heating pads. Patients told authorities the kits were unnecessary, and many never even received them, but clinic owners billed Medicare between $3,000 and $4,000 for each kit.
Houston's other scam involved billing Medicare for thousands of dollars worth of liquid food such as Ensure. Authorities said clinic owners never distributed the food to patients. In some cases, clinic owners billed patients who were dead when they allegedly received the items.
It was the third major sweep since Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in May that they were adding millions of dollars and dozens of agents to combat Medicare fraud, which costs the United States billions each year.
Using about a dozen agents in targeted cities, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has recovered $371 million in false Medicare claims and charged 145 people across the country in two months, officials said.
Since 2007, strike forces in Miami, Detroit and Los Angeles have indicted more than 293 suspects and organizations that collectively have billed the Medicare program more than $674 million.