A couple of Indian American medical professionals in New York were among hundreds charged in a $1.3 billion healthcare billing scheme crackdown, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Among those accused of taking part in the scheme include occupational therapist Mayura Kanekar and cardiologist Dr. Sebhatu Gebrezgi, according to a New York Daily News report.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a July 13 news release called the collective action the “largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history.”
“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” Sessions said. “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 attorney general said that, despite the historic day of charges, the Justice Department’s effort is merely beginning.
“We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are,” he said.
The 10 defendants charged in New York “took advantage of programs designed to provide essential health care for the elderly and the needy,” acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in the Daily News report.
Bhambhani is being charged in a separate case. Prosecutors said the heart specialist broke anti-kickback rules by paying other physicians for referrals, the report said.
Bhambhani, 52, was arraigned July 13 in Brooklyn federal court, where he was expected to be released on $1 million bond, it added. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
A total of 412 people across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, are being charged in the crackdown, with nearly 300 healthcare providers bring suspended or banned from participating in federal healthcare programs, Sessions said.
Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
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.
“Healthcare fraud is not only a criminal act that costs billions of taxpayer dollars – it is an affront to all Americans who rely on our national healthcare programs for access to critical healthcare services and a violation of trust,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
“The United States is home to the world’s best medical professionals, but their ability to provide affordable, high-quality care to their patients is jeopardized every time a criminal commits healthcare fraud. That is why this administration is committed to bringing these criminals to justice," Price added.