MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – More than 30 South Florida healthcare professionals were rounded up and charged with submitting $200 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
CBS4’s Peter D’Oench was in federal court as many of the 33 arrested in South Florida came before federal judge Peter Palermo. Bond for many of the defendants was set at between $100,000 and $150,00. Some defendants will face a hearing on Friday.
One defendant in federal court seemed confused, saying to Palermo “I don’t even know what I’m charged with.”
Palermo told him, “You’re charged in a conspiracy to receive health care kickbacks.”
The arrests Thursday morning were part of a nationwide take down of Medicare fraud suspects. An additional 60 medical professionals were arrested in seven cities including New York, Houston and Los Angeles. They were allegedly responsible for another $229 million in fraudulent claims.
Federal authorities said three people were arrested at LTC Professional Consultants at 7400 S.W. 48th St. and charged in a scheme to defraud. Nearby, at Professional Homecare Solutions at 7174 S.W. 47th St., authorities said that company was involved with $74 million in fraudulent billing for home health care.
They also said the Hollywood Pavillion was involved in $67 million in fraudulent billing.
At a news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder says the case reveals an alarming trend of criminal attempts to steal billions of taxpayer dollars for personal gain. Holder called Thursday’s action against Medicare fraud one of the largest of its kind.
“The total includes over $230 million in home health care fraud, more than $100 million in mental health care fraud, and approximately $49 million in ambulance transportation fraud. Thanks to the outstanding work of federal authorities – and the assistance of state and local partners – as of today, most of these individuals have been arrested or surrendered,” said Holder.
“Such an act not only takes precious resources but it drives up health care costs and affects the strength of medicare,” said Holder. “And it disproportionately victimizes some of the most vulnerable people in our society: the elderly and impoverished Americans.”
“Many of those arrested violated the sacred oath they took to be medical practitioners,” said Holder.
He said the federal government was determined to be very aggressive in its ongoing crackdown on medicare fraud.
In addition to Thursday’s arrests, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said her agency used new authority under the federal health care law to stop future payments to many of the health care providers suspected of fraud.
She said the arrests target “criminal enterprises that have been lining their pockets with funds from the medicare trust fund.”
“We’ve taken down enterprises that in some cases have been robbing taxpayers for years,” she said.
Medicare scams involving physical therapy and medical equipment have flourished for years in South Florida, making it the national hotbed for Medicare corruption.
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