US charging 412 in health care fraud and opioid scams worth $1.3B

Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP/WAVY) — U.S. prosecutors announced Thursday that they have charged more than 400 people with taking part in health care fraud and opioid scams that totaled $1.3 billion in false billing.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the collective action the “largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history” and said it indicates that some doctors, nurses and pharmacists “have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients.”

The Justice Department said the people charged were illegally billing Medicare, Medicaid, and the health insurance program that serves members of the armed forces, retired service members and their families. The allegations include claims that those charged billed the programs for unnecessary drugs that were never purchased or never given to the patients.

Sessions said that nearly 300 health care providers are being suspended or banned from participating in federal health care programs.

Among those charged are six Michigan doctors accused of a scheme to prescribe unnecessary opioids. A Florida rehab facility is alleged to have recruited addicts with gift cards and visits to strip clubs, leading to $58 million in false treatments and tests.

A woman from Richmond was also charged.

Chermeca Harris, 36, was arrested on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Harris, a Medicaid beneficiary, would misrepresent her health condition to hospitals and ambulance services in order to get health care benefits. Specifically, she’s accused of falsely saying that she suffered from sickle-cell anemia and was having a sickle-cell crisis in order to get pain killers, such as Dilaudid, which she wanted to receive intravenously through the neck.

According to prosecutors, doctors tested Harris in January 2016 and determined she did not have sickle-cell anemia.

According to an indictment, Harris also falsely represented her identity. On some occasions she used the names of two other Medicaid recipients. The indictment says she also gave a false name to federal agents, and told them that she had sickle-cell anemia.

Harris has been charged with eight counts of health care fraud on the Medicaid program, two counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of making a false statement to federal agents. She faces a mandatory minimum of four years in prison and a maximum penalty of 89 years in prison, if convicted.