- The U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday it charged 58 people in Texas in connection with their alleged roles in various schemes to defraud government health programs, including distributing and dispensing medically unnecessary opioids, billing Medicaid for non-emergency ambulance services that were never actually provided and paying kickbacks and laundering money through durable medical equipment companies.
- The allegations involved multiple programs including Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Department of Labor-Office of Worker's Compensation programs as well as private insurance companies.
- Separately, DOJ brought charges against a total of 34 people for their alleged participation in Medicare and Medicaid fraud schemes in other states, including California, Arizona and Oregon. Seventeen of the people charged in those schemes were doctors or licensed medical professionals.
Created in 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has units operating in 23 districts, and has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. It's a joint effort between DOJ and HHS to deter healthcare fraud.
According to the most recent statistics, from January, the strike force has brought 2,117 criminal actions, secured 2,754 indictments and recovered $3.3 billion in connection with its investigations.
HHS declared the opioid crisis a national emergency in 2017. And the DOJ is increasingly focusing on fraud related to opioids, including going after medical professionals allegedly involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics.
"Sadly, opioid proliferation is nothing new to Americans," U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said in a statement announcing the charges. "What is new is the reinforced fight being taken to dirty doctors and shady pharmacists," he said.
The coordinated healthcare fraud enforcement operation across Texas resulted in charges involving networks of "pill mill" clinics that led to $66 million in losses and the distribution of 6.2 million pills, the government said. Sixteen doctors and pharmacists were among those charged.
And that's on top of last month, when the Health Care Fraud Unit's Houston Strike Force charged dozens of people in a trafficking network that diverted more than 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol pills.
The Texas actions also involved healthcare fraud other than opioid diversion, including fraudulent physician orders for durable medical equipment, fraudulent claims for ambulance services and stealing protected healthcare information.
The separate actions in California, Arizona and Oregon involved schemes that ran the gamut from billing for medically unnecessary compounded drugs, unnecessary cardiac treatments and testing, billing for chiropractic services never provided and a hospice kickback scheme.