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HEAT Strike Force Enforcement Takes an International Turn

HEAT Strike Force Enforcement Efforts are Expanding(October 17, 2010):  Medicare’s HEAT Strike Force is actively tracking down wrongdoers. The FBI has announced the arrest of 73 defendants, a number of which are allegedly members of an international organized crime organization, as part of one of the largest criminal health care fraud cases ever brought.  It is estimated that these individuals are responsible for the illegal submission of over $163 million in fraudulent Medicare claims.  As  the FBI’s Press Release reflects:

 “. . .the defendants allegedly stole the identities of doctors and thousands of Medicare beneficiaries and operated at least 118 different phony clinics in 25 states for the purposes of submitting Medicare reimbursements.

 As the FBI noted, the schemes employed by this group included the submission of fraudulent claims for medically unnecessary treatments and services to the Medicare program for payment by these “phantom clinics.”  Indictments covering these defendants were issued in five states, California, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, and Ohio. Commenting on the multi-agency cooperation involved, the Press Release notes that:

“Today’s arrests are an example of the FBI’s ability to conduct cross-program, multi-divisional investigations targeting a national level threat. In recent years, the department has undertaken a series of steps to modernize its organized crime program and enable federal law enforcement to take a unified approach to combating international organized crime. The Attorney General’s Organized Crime Council brings together the leadership of the FBI and eight other federal law enforcement agencies or offices with the department’s prosecutors, focusing high-level attention on these issues. The IOC-2 provides support in the form of information and intelligence to the member agencies that enhance efforts to identify, penetrate and dismantle the most dangerous organized crime groups through investigations and prosecutions. The creation of the International Organized Crime Targeting Committee and the Top International Criminal Organizations Target (TICOT) List, directs investigators and prosecutors to concentrate their limited resources on those international organized crime groups that pose the greatest threat to the United States. The department’s Criminal Division, through the Health Care Fraud Unit, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, and the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, has created new training programs to educate investigators and prosecutors on the intricacies of international organized crime and financial investigations.” (emphasis added).

Commentary: As this case reflects, the ease and extraordinary profits which can be generated from health care fraud is more than enough incentive for international organized crime syndicates to move into this area.  With the uncovering of this scheme, we should fully expect that DOJ, HHS-OIG and the HEAT Strike Force will continue to investigate these relationships.

Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers around the country in administrative, civil and criminal health law related matters and cases.  Please call us at 1 (800) 475-1906 for a free consultation.

Additional Cities will have HEAT Teams in 2011

Additional Cities are Getting Medicare Fraud HEAT Teams(August 27, 2010): Additional cities will be getting Medicare fraud HEAT teams. Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder and U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius conducted the second of a planned series of “Regional Health Care Fraud Prevention Summits.” In addition to these agency heads, participants learned of current and additional planned initiatives from a number of Federal and State law enforcement officials. The first summit was recently conducted in Miami, Florida.  This summit was held in Los Angeles, California. Describing the progress made in the last fiscal year, Attorney General Holder noted that:

 “In just the last fiscal year, we’ve won or negotiated more than $1.6 billion in judgments and settlements, returned more than $2.5 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund, opened thousands of new criminal and civil health care fraud investigations, reached an all-time high in the number of health care fraud defendants charged, and stopped numerous large-scale fraud schemes in their tracks.”

Notably, Attorney General Holder also made it clear that the government’s joint Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) program is slated for further expansion over the next year.  As he noted:

HEAT’s impact has been recognized by President Obama, whose FY 2011 budget request includes an additional $60 million to expand our network of Strike Forces to additional cities. With these new resources, and our continued commitment to collaboration, I have no doubt we’ll be able to extend HEAT’s record of achievement. And this record is extraordinary. (emphasis added).

These funds will be to supplement, not supplant, existing health care fraud enforcement efforts currently underway. While the additional cities slated for HEAT expansion were not announced at this event, all health care providers, regardless of location, should be especially vigilant in their efforts to ensure that Medicare coding and billing practices regulating the items and services they are providing must comply with applicable statutory and agency requirements.

Should you have questions regarding a health care fraud issue, you may call Robert W. Liles or another of our attorneys. Call 1 (800) 475-1906 for a free consultation.

 

Medicare Fraud Strike Force Operation Leads to Charges against 94 Defendants, including 4 in South Texas

Medicare Fraud Strike Force(July 17, 2010): Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced charges against 94 physicians, medical assistants, and health care company owners and executives in connection with alleged false Medicare claims amounting to more than $251 million.  24 defendants from Miami account for approximately $103 million of that amount.  Four defendants were charged in Houston for their alleged roles in a $3 million scheme to submit fraudulent claims for durable medical equipment (DME).  Other arrests were made in Baton Rouge, Brooklyn, and Detroit.

The offenses charged include conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, criminal false claims, violations of the anti-kickback statutes, and money laundering.  The charges are based on a variety of fraud schemes, including physical therapy and occupational therapy schemes, home health care schemes, HIV infusion fraud schemes and durable medical equipment (DME) schemes.

Announcing the arrests, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “With today’s arrests, we’re putting would-be criminals on notice: Health care fraud is no longer a safe bet.  It’s no longer easy money.  If you choose to engage in health care fraud, you will be found; you will be stopped; and you will be brought to justice.”

The operation was conducted by the joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force, multi-agency teams of federal, state, and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing.  Strike Force teams are operating in seven cities in the United States: the five aforementioned cities, Los Angeles, and Tampa.  AG Holder noted that the ongoing Strike Force initiative in South Florida has resulted in the indictments of 810 organizations and individuals since March 2007 and uncovered $1.85 billion in improperly billed claims.

The Strike Forces are a part of Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), which is made up of top level law enforcement and professional staff from the DOJ and HHS and their operating divisions.  HEAT is dedicated to joint efforts across government to both prevent fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.

Should you have any questions regarding these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.  For a complementary consultation, you may call Robert W. Liles or one  of our other attorneys at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

HEAT Strike Force Update: Prosecutions in Texas Increased in March 2010

The Texas HEAT Strike Force is actively investigating Medicare fraud throughout the state.(April 3, 2010):  The Federal government is taking considerable steps to stop Medicare fraud and abuse. Notably, the number of publicly-disclosed HEAT Strike Force investigations and prosecutions in Texas significantly increased last month.  Two of the cases disclosed involved mental health professionals:

 

  • A Psychologist was convicted of health care fraud and money laundering, in connection with various claims fraudulently billed to Medicare.  Instances of improper conduct included billing for more than twenty-four hours of services in a single day; billing for services in a single day which amounted to more than double the normal business hours of the Psychologist’s practice; billing for services allegedly rendered during weekends, holidays, and times that the Psychologist was known to be out-of-town and away from the practice; and, submitting claims for services and evaluations not actually performed by the Psychologist, as required by law.
  • An unlicensed Behavioral Health Counselor was charged with Medicaid fraud for allegedly engaging in aggravated identity theft.  The defendant allegedly improperly acquired Medicaid beneficiaries’ information, including names, addresses and Medicaid numbers, then used the information to file false claims through a behavioral counseling service the defendant owned.  These behavioral counseling services were billed to Medicaid but allegedly not provided to the beneficiaries for which they were billed.

Since being established approximately a year ago, Texas’ HEAT Strike Force has significantly increased both investigations and prosecutions throughout the State.  Both enforcement efforts and the frequency of Medicare audits are anticipated to increase throughout 2010 and following years.  In addition to the increasing number of civil and criminal cases brought by the Texas HEAT Strike Force, the number of administrative overpayment cases is anticipated to grow as well.  It is essential that Texas providers continue their efforts to ensure that both business operations and billing practices fully comply with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

Liles Parker PLLC includes a number of attorneys with extensive former experience as Federal and / or State prosecutors.  Should your organization find itself under investigation, call us today for a complimentary consultation at: 1 (800) 475-1906.