CEDAR RAPIDS – Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar III, announced Thursday the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action involving 601 charged defendants across 58 federal districts, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings. Of those charged, 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, HHS announced today that from July 2017 to the present, it has excluded 2,700 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs, which includes 587 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.
Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Azar were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Deputy Director David L. Bowdich of the FBI, Assistant Administrator John Martin of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Deputy Chief Eric Hylton of IRS Criminal Investigation, Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Director Dermot F. O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Criminal Division, Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit in conjunction with its Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and HHS-OIG. In addition, the operation includes the participation of the DEA, DCIS, and State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The charges announced today aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families) for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that often were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid related overdose.
“Health care fraud is a betrayal of vulnerable patients, and often it is theft from the taxpayer,” said Attorney General Sessions. “In many cases, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets. These are despicable crimes. That’s why this Department of Justice has taken historic new steps to go after fraudsters, including hiring more prosecutors and leveraging the power of data analytics. Today the Department of Justice is announcing the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history. 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. I want to thank our fabulous partners with the FBI, DEA, our Health Care Fraud task forces, HHS, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, IRS Criminal Investigation, Medicare, and especially the more than 1,000 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers from across America who made this possible. By every measure we are more effective at finding and prosecuting medical fraud than ever.”
The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, Peter E. Deegan, Jr., lauded the enforcement actions. “Our office will aggressively fight health care fraud and prosecute those individuals who contribute to the opioid epidemic. We will seek out and prosecute those medical professionals who abuse the trust that society places in them by unlawfully diverting opioids and other controlled substances.”
“Every dollar recovered in this year’s operation represents not just a taxpayer’s hard-earned money—it’s a dollar that can go toward providing healthcare for Americans in need,” said HHS Secretary Azar. “This year’s Takedown Day is a significant accomplishment for the American people, and every public servant involved should be proud of their work.”
According to court documents, the defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided. In many cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed. Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners and others charged are accused of submitting a total of over $2 billion in fraudulent billings. Because virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved in order for Medicare or Medicaid to pay the fraudulent claims, aggressively pursuing corrupt medical professionals not only has a deterrent effect on other medical professionals, but also ensures that their licenses can no longer be used to bilk the system.
United States Attorney Deegan announced two criminal prosecutions in the Northern District of Iowa. The prosecutions are:
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. The charges stem from Moorehead using the identities of multiple hospital patients with prescriptions for pain medications containing hydrocodone to dispense and divert the pills to his own personal use, and falsely indicating in Medicare beneficiaries’ medical records that those medications were administered to the patients. This case is being handled by AUSA Lyndie Freeman and was investigated by the Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
United States v. Lacey Staveley: Lacey Staveley, also a nurse, was charged with one count of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge, and three counts of false statements relating to health care matters. The charges stem from Staveley allegedly making false entries in the electronic medical records of a Cedar Falls, Iowa, nursing home with respect to two residents. It is alleged that Staveley indicated she had administered oral tablets containing hydrocodone, which was paid for by Medicare, to the nursing home residents when in truth Staveley diverted those oral tablets for her own use. This case is being handled by AUSA Tim Vavricek and was investigated by the Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,700 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $14 billion.