Last Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the largest health care fraud crackdown in U.S. history. The DOJ found false billings to insurance companies and distribution of opioid painkillers to addicted patients in exchange for money. Among those charged were physicians and nurses, proving that in the midst of the opioid epidemic, many healthcare providers have proven untrustworthy. This follows President Trump’s 2017 budget requesting a seventy million dollar investment in the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price announced last Thursday that the Medicare Fraud Strike Force charged four-hundred-twelve licensed medical professionals with health care fraud across forty-one federal districts. The accused providers allegedly billed Medicare and Medicaid for fraudulent treatments, accumulating an estimated $1.3 billion in false insurance claims. Among those charged were one-hundred-fifteen doctors who were prescribing and distributing medically unnecessary opioids and other narcotics to patients. The announcement also stated:
The allegations include actively recruiting addicted patients to move to South Florida so that the co-conspirators could bill insurance companies for fraudulent treatment and testing, in return for which, the co-conspirators offered kickbacks to patients in the form of gift cards, free airline travel, trips to casinos and strip clubs, and drugs.
In the midst of the current opioid epidemic facing the U.S., the overprescribing of opioids to patients is disastrous. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about ninety-one casualties occur each day in the U.S. from an opioid related overdose. Also, as previously reported by Liberty Nation, over two million Americans currently suffer from opioid addiction. Attorney General Sessions explains the magnitude of the health care fraud crackdown on the opioid epidemic:
Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients. Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards. While today is a historic day, the Department’s work is not finished. In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are.
It is likely that Attorney General Sessions did not give U.S. doctors enough credit. Doctors in the U.S. are well aware of the dangers of opioid abuse, yet most of those charged in the Department of Justice crackdown knowingly caused disastrous consequences for financial gain. According to the International Narcotics Board, the U.S. is the world leader in opioid prescriptions. Moreover, the overprescribing of opioid painkillers has contributed to the growing incidence of heroin abuse. As reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin abuse is much more likely to occur in individuals who previously abused prescription opioids. The health care providers charged in the crackdown were undoubtedly aware of the consequences of their actions.
Although the recently exposed health care fraud does earn medical officials the mistrust of the public, it is important to realize that even the significant number of people charged still only represents a small portion of the industry. Most health care providers likely genuinely care for the well being of their patients. As reported in an interview by Liberty Nation, scientists have worked to develop medical advancements to combat the opioid epidemic, including a heroin vaccine. Through the devotion of healthcare professionals to create medical advancements, the opioid epidemic and incidences of health care fraud may one day subside.