More than 600 arrested in healthcare fraud takedowns
The Justice Department announced that 601 individuals - including 162 doctors - had been arrested and charged in various fraud schemes, mostly related to the opioid epidemic.
Most of the crimes involved attempting to defraud various federal healthcare programs. But officials point out that much of the fraud involved prescribing and distributing opioids, contributing to the epidemic of opioid addicts in the US.
While the Justice Department has been conducting investigations into some opioid manufacturers like OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, the cases stemming from the sweep did not focus on wrongdoing by major corporations.
Many of the criminal cases announced on Thursday involved charges against medical professionals who authorities said had contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic by participating in the unlawful distribution of prescription painkillers.
Those charged included a Florida anesthesiologist accused of running a “pill mill;” a Pennsylvania doctor alleged to have billed an insurer for illegally prescribed opioids; and a Texas pharmacy chain owner and two other people accused of improperly filling orders for opioids that were sold to drug couriers.
The Justice Department also announced other cases unrelated to opioids, including schemes to bill the government healthcare programs Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare as well as private insurers for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications.
The scourge of the misuse of addictive pain killers was inevitable once the government loosened restrictions on the drugs in order to relieve those who suffer from chronic pain. This includes the dying whose suffering went untreated largely because doctors were forbidden from over-prescribing pain medication due to fears that the patient would become addicted. Other chronic pain sufferers endured a similiar fate.
Until you've lived with nearly unbearable back or neck pain, I don't think you can judge someone for becoming addicted. But the problem is now out of control as there are those who abuse the drugs simply to get high. Many were once prescribed opioids for legitimate medical reasons and became addicted. The government is investigating whether Big Pharma execs were aware that their product was being abused as a street drug and encouraged the illegal distribution of their products.
The bottom line is that it appears to be ridiculously easy to defraud government healthcare programs. Obviously, anti-fraud efforts by federal agencies are falling far short of the goal to minimize the theft of taxpayer dollars. You're never going to eliminate schemes to defraud the government, but certainly procedures to quickly detect and catch fraudsters can be improved.
For many who are addicted to opioids, it is too late.