Reuters publishes "special report" on health care fraud

by Ben Vernia | April 15th, 2011

On April 13, the Reuters news service published a lengthy special report on the challenges of health care fraud in federal programs. The article singles out Florida, where the DOJ/HHS HEAT began, as a hotbed of fraudulent activity:

No state comes close to matching Florida as a haven for crooked healthcare businesses. Long known for its unsavory links with drug cartels, money launderers and swampland real estate deals, Florida is an obvious magnet for Medicare scammers since so many elderly Americans have retired to end their days in its famous sunshine.

As it happens, Florida is also leading a legal challenge by 26 states to overturn President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform. And Republican Governor Rick Scott, a fierce opponent of the law, has a controversial past as chief executive of a healthcare corporation that paid a record $1.7 billion in fines for defrauding Medicare and other federal programs. Scott has emphasized that he was never charged with any crimes as chief executive of the giant Columbia/HCA hospital chain.

A senior federal agent highlighted Florida’s role as “ground zero” for the crime in congressional testimony last month, saying it was now “accepted as a safe and easy way to get rich quick” in the state.

It has drawn in people from all walks of life, including high school dropouts now making millions of dollars a year, said Omar Perez, an agent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

“In South Florida, Medicare fraud is not only perpetrated by independent, scattered groups, but also by competitive, organized businesses complete with hierarchies and opportunities for advancement,” Perez said.

“The money involved is staggering. We see business owners, healthcare providers and suppliers, doctors, and Medicare beneficiaries participating in the fraud. We also see drug dealers and organized criminal enterprises defrauding the system.”

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