U.S. charges hundreds in healthcare fraud, opioid crackdown

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The widespread operations were led by DOJ's Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a collaboration of DOJ's criminal division, USA attorney's offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and HHS' Office of Inspector General.

The US Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against 601 people including doctors and nurses for taking part in healthcare fraud and opioid-related crimes that resulted in more than US$2 billion in losses. They include 76 doctors, 23 pharmacists, 19 nurses, and other medical workers.

Prosecutors said former hospital owner Michael Drobot spearheaded the scheme, which involved more than $40 million in illegal kickbacks paid to doctors and medical professionals over 15 years in return for referring thousands of patients who received surgeries and other services.

They were among 13 people, including five doctors, a chiropractor, three licensed physical and occupational therapists and two pharmacy owners charged with Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

Ashlee McFarlane, former federal prosecutor and partner at Gerger Khalil & Hennessy, told Healthcare Dive via email that the takedown shows DOJ "is committing significant resources to criminally prosecuting anyone who prescribes drugs or distributes opioid prescriptions outside the normal course of medical practice. This is the most fraud, the most defendants, and the most doctors ever charged in a single operation-and we have evidence that our ongoing work has stopped or prevented billions of dollars' worth of fraud".

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Greenberg focused on the theme of fighting scofflaw drug treatment centers and sober homes for opioid addicts during his presentation, which echoed a news conference led by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington, D.C. Sessions has made fighting the nation's opioid crisis, fueled by an average of 115 overdose deaths every day, a top priority of the Trump administration.

He also assigned a dozen prosecutors to focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related healthcare fraud in districts in need. In many cases, investigators said, patient beneficiaries were paid cash kickbacks for supplying information to medical providers.

Patino is accused of submitting claims to Medicare and Medicaid for health care that wasn't performed or wasn't necessary. Several face charges of unlawfully dispensing controlled substances, including Dr. Peter Steiner, a psychiatrist who operated Kentuckiana Mental Health Associates, who is accused of prescribing unnecessary drugs.

The takedown is considered to be one of the largest health care fraud busts in U.S history.

United States v. James Moorehead: James Moorehead, a registered nurse, was charged with three counts of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, or subterfuge, and seven counts of false statements relating to health care matters.