The U.S. Department of Justice arrested more than 400 individuals across the country for fraudulent health care schemes that cumulatively cost the federal government $1.3 billion. Roughly a third of the defendants have been accused of committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud related to opioids, contributing the the largest overdose epidemic in U.S. history.
On July 13, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ Medicare Fraud Strike Force had arrested 412 people for health care fraud over the past week, The New York Times reports. Many of the arrests were years in the making and focused on fraud related to opioids.
"Too many trusted medical professionals, like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients," Sessions said, according to Vox. "Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start."
Fifty-six of the defendants were doctors accused of billing Medicare for prescription drugs that were never purchased or running so-called pill mills, where they prescribed opioids to patients for cash transactions.
"Some doctors wrote out more prescriptions for controlled substances than entire hospitals were writing," said FBI acting director Andrew McCabe, according to The Washington Times.
Several defendants have also been accused of exploiting the opioid epidemic by creating shoddy drug rehabilitation centers that did not help addicts all while collecting federal health insurance reimbursements.
Perhaps the most egregious example was Eric Snyder, who owned a rehabilitation center in Delray Beach, Florida, Vox reports. Snyder is accused of recruiting addicts in the South Florida area to attend his facility while fraudulently billing insurance companies more than $50 million from 2011 to 2015. His associate, Christopher Fuller, has been accused of helping recruit addicts and ply them with drugs.
The Medicare Fraud Strike force was established in 2007. Since its inception, the task force has arrested over 3,500 individuals involved in health care fraud schemes totalling $12.5 billion, The New York Times reports.
"This event again highlights the enormity of the fraud challenge we face," Sessions concluded.
On the same day that the DOJ announced the arrests, a report by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general found roughly 70,000 Medicare beneficiaries were prescribed extreme amounts of opioids in 2016 that more than doubled the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to NPR.
The IG report also found that more than 400 doctors and health care providers in the U.S. practiced questionable prescription patterns.
An estimated 59,000 Americans died from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016.