Federal officials charged 24 people and dismantled a $1.2 billion Medicare scheme that spanned continents and ensnared hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting elderly and disabled patients, NPR reports.
In the scheme, one of the largest health care frauds in U.S. history, doctors prescribed back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces that were not needed, prosecutors said.
Just two years ago, a similar scheme to defraud the government’s healthcare program was unearthed in Florida,. Prosecutors at the time said the $1 billion fraud was “the largest in history.”
“These defendants — who range from corporate executives to medical professionals — allegedly participated in an expansive and sophisticated fraud to exploit telemedicine technology meant for patients otherwise unable to access health care,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski.
Some of the accused were owners of durable medical equipment companies that paid kickbacks and bribes to doctors to write prescriptions for braces that allegedly were medically unnecessary.
An international telemarketing network with call centers in the Philippines and Latin America would reach out to Medicare beneficiaries, persuading them to get the free or low-cost braces. The doctors would sometimes write prescriptions without speaking to the patient.
“The defendants took advantage of unwitting patients who were simply trying to get relief from their health concerns,” Craig Carpenito, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement.
“Instead, the defendants preyed upon their weakened state and pushed millions of dollars’ worth of unnecessary medical devices, which Medicare paid for, and then set up an elaborate system for laundering their ill-gotten proceeds.”
Prosecutors brought charges against people in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. People charged included the chief executives or employees of five telemedicine companies, the owners of dozens of durable medical equipment companies, and three licensed medical professionals.