June 24, 2009 / 8:25 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. pursues crackdown on healthcare fraud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Wednesday announced they had charged 53 people with Medicare fraud and vowed to pursue a crackdown on schemes that cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Medicare fraud charges this week demonstrate “we will strike back against those fraudulent schemes” that undermine the health insurance program for the elderly and contribute to rising health costs.

The Justice Department said indictments unsealed in Detroit charged the 53 people — doctors, business owners, employees and patients — with more than $50 million in Medicare offenses.

That followed separate indictments in Miami charging eight people of defrauding the healthcare system by creating phony clinics that produced fraudulent bills of about $100 million.

President Barack Obama has pledged to get healthcare reform through Congress this year. The administration was talking with lawmakers about allowing better data-sharing and other strategies to battle fraud, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

“As we work on health reform legislation, we’re working to ensure that the final legislation includes new policies to help prevent fraud and abuse,” she said.

“This is not a victimless crime,” FBI Director Robert Mueller said. “We in the FBI now have more than 2,400 pending healthcare fraud investigations.”

Investigators are using techniques such as undercover operations and wiretaps in these types of cases, Mueller said.

“By pursuing these methods we can reduce the long-term damage to the American economy and to the citizens we serve,” he said.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Xavier Briand

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