MIAMI May 13 Ninety people, including doctors,
pharmacy owners and elderly patients, were arrested this week in
six cities and charged with submitting fake billings to Medicare
worth nearly $260 million, federal officials said on Tuesday.
"They each tried to use the Medicare program as their own
personal ATM machine and to line their pockets with our money,"
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer told reporters.
Since 2007, when federal agencies stepped up efforts to
crack down on Medicare fraud, authorities have arrested and
charged more than 1,900 people who collectively have falsely
billed more than $6 billion to the government health program for
the elderly and disabled.
A majority of the recent arrests were made in south Florida,
which has emerged as a hotbed of Medicare fraud.
Among those arrested this week was an 85-year-old man on
Medicare who allegedly received kickbacks in exchange for
ordering home healthcare services.
Eduardo Perez de Morales, 26, was charged with laundering
the proceeds of healthcare schemes through a remittance company
that sent money to Cuba.
Arrests were also made in Detroit, New York City, Los
Angeles, Houston and Tampa.
The schemes used to bleed millions from Medicare ranged from
recruiters paying elderly individuals to file excessive claims
to home healthcare agencies seeking payment for services never
performed and medical supply companies billing for equipment
that was never ordered, officials said.
Yet the greatest concern was raised over fraud in Medicare
Part D, which provides drug benefits for elderly and disabled
people through private insurers.
"We find ourselves to constantly be engaged in a game of
whack-a-mole," Ferrer said. "These small pharmacies, which some
people can actually describe as holes-in-the-wall are actually
billing a lot more to Part D than major national chains."
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Matthew Lewis)