- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

In a widespread crackdown on Medicare fraud, the Justice Department has charged 91 people with billing the federal insurance program $429 million in phony claims, officials said Thursday.

Individuals in seven cities across the country have been indicted for cheating Medicare out of money for a range of health care services. The largest bulk of false claims included more than $230 million for home health care, followed by claims for mental health care and ambulance transportation.

“Today’s coordinated actions represent one of the largest Medicare fraud takedowns in Department of Justice history, as measured by the amount of alleged fraudulent billings,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

The sting included the largest ambulance fraud scheme ever to be prosecuted in recent history. Officials charged Los Angles-based Alpha Ambulance Inc. with billing $49.2 million to Medicare for providing medically unnecessary rides.

In one case, Dallas Dr. Joseph Megwa allegedly signed about 33,000 prescriptions for thousands of Medicare patients without ever reviewing them.

A Chicago dermatologist and psychologist were charged with submitting millions of dollars in false claims for medically unnecessary laser treatments and psychotherapy services, in another case.

And in Miami, three residents were charged with coordinating a fraud scheme through a home health care service that led to $75 million in fraudulent billing.

The false claims were uncovered by the Medicare Strike Force, a joint effort between the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to find and prosecute fraud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the HHS inspector general, Medicaid fraud control units and state and local agencies also participated, officials said.

“Today’s enforcement actions reveal an alarming and unacceptable trend of individuals attempting to exploit federal health care programs to steal billions in taxpayer dollars for personal gain,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The task force uncovered the largest single Medicare fraud scheme in history last February, arresting a ring of Dallas-area health care professionals on suspicion of collecting $375 million in phony claims.

It was created by President Obama’s health care law as a way to curb waste, fraud and abuse within the federal health insurance program which provides coverage for about 50 million senior and disabled Americans.

• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at pcunningham@washingtontimes.com.

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