The Justice Department announced the arrests of hundreds of people Thursday on charges of health-care fraud totaling $2 billion. Of the 601 people charged, 165 were licensed medical professionals, many of whom are alleged to have exacerbated the opioid epidemic to make an illegal profit.
“Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients — vulnerable people suffering from addiction — and they see dollar signs,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement released by the DOJ. “Virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved,” added Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the same statement.
The defendants are accused of submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, and private insurance companies for unnecessary treatments, including many that were never provided. A substantial number of the charges involved the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription painkillers. In one case, three employees of a pharmacy chain in Texas are alleged to have fraudulently filled bulk orders of more than 1 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills and sold them for millions of dollars to drug transporters.
“Health care fraud is a betrayal of vulnerable patients, and often it is theft from the taxpayer,” Sessions said in the statement. “In many cases, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets.”
“The perpetrators really are despicable and greedy people,” Azar said at a press conference.
The Trump administration has promised to prioritize its response to the opioid crisis, and Sessions touted the arrests as the “largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history” in his statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 115 Americans a day die from opioid-related overdoses, and more than 42,000 died from overdoses in 2016.