Dozens of south Floridans are being charged with ripping off the state treasury of millions of dollars paid for medical services and equipment not needed.
Officials there said most of the schemes involve infusion therapy and medical equipment suppliers.
"Tuesday we charged 24 individuals, and today we arrested four more defendants in yet another Medicare fraud scam," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said. "That brings the number of individuals charged by this strike force to 42 defendants, allegedly responsible for more than $142 million in fraudulent billings to Medicare."
These are not your standard over-billing cases, it is pointed out. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt described it as wholesale theft in which people set up sham medical equipment dealerships in malls and office buildings claiming to be Medicare providers. In many of the cases, Medicare recipients participated in the fraud by giving their Medicare numbers to the companies in exchange for cash payments, usually $100 a month.
Some defendants are accused of stealing the Medicare numbers of beneficiaries, and then billing the government for power wheelchairs, walkers, or kits for testing blood sugar levels, said Leavitt.
Investigators also found doctors in HIV clinics were paid for issuing fake prescriptions and the patients concerned were also suitably compensated for use of their Medicare cards.
South Florida was targeted for initial crackdown because of its large population of senior citizens. The investigations will soon be expanding to other places around the country.
Officials said among those indicted is the owner of a company called Faster Medical Equipment Inc.
"When the agents arrived at that location where the so-called medical services company was located, they found little more than a small closet," Acosta said. "They found no clinic, and they found no patient files."
The agents did find buckets of tar and a broken oxygen machine and seized a new Rolls Royce from the owner.
"To steal taxpayers' dollars to buy Rolls Royces, this is a frightening occurrence and it is happening a great deal in South Florida," Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said.
Agents said it has become a rampant problem ultimately costing taxpayers and advice patients to aid in stopping Medicare fraud by checking payment summaries.
One patient noticed Medicare had been billed $4,000 for a prosthetic leg she did not need since she had both her legs.
The authorities have now turned wiser and are planning more stringent regulations to minimize frauds. The increased enforcement efforts may involve additional annual expenses of about $20 million. But the annual savings to taxpayers and other beneficiaries will be a whopping $2.5 billion.