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Doctors among 100+ charged for health care fraud linked to COVID-19, opioids

More than 100 people including doctors and nurses are facing federal charges for health care fraud schemes involving telemedicine, the coronavirus pandemic and opioids.

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The Justice Department on Friday filed criminal charges against 138 people, including 42 medical professionals — 23 of whom are physicians. The fraud schemes led to more than $1.4 billion in suspected losses.

More than 40 people were charged for allegedly submitting more than $1.1 billion in false claims through telemedicine services. Court documents show some telemedicine executives paid doctors and nurse practitioners to order unnecessary tests, medical equipment and pain medications in exchange for illegal kickbacks that were spent on luxury items, including cars and yachts.

Nine people were charged for participating in various schemes to “exploit the COVID-19 pandemic,” resulting in more than $29 million in false billings, DOJ said. In one case, some defendants used patient information to make false claims to Medicare for unnecessary laboratory tests, the department said.

Others were charged for submitting illegal prescriptions for opioids and for making false claims for tests and treatments for people seeking help with substance abuse.

“We are stopping corrupt medical professionals in their tracks,” said Kenneth Polite Jr., assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

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“The charges announced today send a clear deterrent message and should leave no doubt about the department’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of health care benefit programs, even amid a continued pandemic,” he told reporters during a phone call on Friday.

Opioid-related overdoses killed more than 93,000 people in 2020, a record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram said “these fraudulent activities prey on our most vulnerable.”

“Not only do these schemes profit from desperation, but they often leave their victims even deeper in addiction,” Ms. Milgram said.

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