On Thursday, June 28th, the DOJ and HHS announced the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action. It resulted in charges against 601 defendants across 58 federal districts, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings.
The cases were coordinated by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a partnership between the DOJ’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG. Other federal and state agencies participated.
The prosecutions have a heavy opioid/dangerous narcotics focus: Of those charged, 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing those drugs.
Importantly, in addition to targeting schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE, the feds also went after defendants who focused on billing private insurance companies for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries.
The defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. Patient recruiters, beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare.
The federal investigation was coordinated with a number of states’ Medicaid Fraud Control Units. As a result, in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington, 97 defendants were charged with defrauding the Medicaid program out of over $27 million.
From the many examples of alleged facts in the DOJ announcement:
- An indictment in a compounding pharmacy fraud case alleges an attorney/marketer paid kickbacks and offered incentives such as prostitutes and expensive meals to two podiatrists in exchange for prescriptions written on pre-printed prescription pads, regardless of the medical need for the prescriptions. Once the prescriptions were filled, members of the conspiracy submitted approximately $250 million in fraudulent claims to federal, state, and private insurers for the compounded drugs.
- In another case, defendants are a pharmacy chain owner, managing partner, and lead pharmacist charged with a drug and money laundering conspiracy. According to the indictment, the coconspirators used fraudulent prescriptions to fill bulk orders for over one million pills of hydrocodone and oxycodone, which the pharmacy, in turn, sold to drug couriers for millions of dollars.
- A prosecution alleges a home health fraud and kickback conspiracy which resulted in more than $6.2 million paid by Medicare based on fraudulent billings.
- A physician/owner of a pain management clinic was charged with unlawfully prescribing more than two million dosage units of Oxycodone.
- Twelve defendants, including five medical professionals, were charged in various schemes involving health care fraud, unlawful distribution of controlled substances, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. One of the schemes involved the operation of two false-front medical clinics.
The feds also announced that since this time last year, they excluded 2,700 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs, of whom 587 were excluded for opioid diversion and abuse. Over the past fiscal year, the DOJ has won or negotiated over $2 billion in judgments and settlements related to matters alleging health care fraud.
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Mark F. Weiss