New most-wanted list targets health fraudsters
■ Two of 10 fugitives on the HHS inspector general's list have been caught. Other fraud-fighting efforts have led to 110 recent arrests.
By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Feb. 28, 2011
In an effort to draw the public's attention to the faces behind health care fraud crimes, the government has launched a 10 most-wanted list featuring the nation's worst offenders.
The list, released in February by the Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, is derived from a pool of more than 170 people accused of health fraud. The "OIG Most Wanted Fugitives" website includes mug shots, identification information and criminal profiles of 10 fraudsters at large.
"We think this is a very important tool, because there seems to be a wide distaste for health care fraud [among the public] and within the medical community itself," said OIG spokesman Donald White.
As the list was developed, two of the 10 suspects were captured, White said. The two were Reynel Betancourt, a Cuban national accused of submitting $9.1 million in false Medicare claims, and Steven Moos, MD, charged with fraudulent Internet marketing. The Oregon Medical Board in 2003 issued an emergency suspension of the medical license of Dr. Moos, who formerly practiced as a family physician. His license was revoked in 2004, according to medical board records.
The more than 170 suspects come from various income levels and professions, according to OIG officials. Only a handful are physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.
"Individuals who steal from federal health care programs and then flee from the consequences of their crimes must be held accountable," Gerald Roy, OIG deputy inspector general for investigations, said in a statement. "We hope our new Web page will encourage the public to help us apprehend these fugitives."
The website includes an online fugitive tip form and hot line number.
During the last month, other aggressive efforts by the federal government have led to more fraud-fighting success.
The Dept. of Justice on Feb 17 announced its largest-ever health fraud takedown, charging more than 110 people in nine cities. The suspects, including doctors, nurses and health care company owners, are accused of submitting $225 million in false billing, according to the Dept. of Justice.
Twenty people, including three doctors, were charged Feb. 15 in Florida for various fraud offenses. Their alleged crimes include $220 million in fraudulent Medicare billing for mental health services they did not provide.
The OIG's most-wanted list and other recent strategies by the government have generated much-needed progress in the battle against health care fraud, said Jim Quiggle, spokesman for the nonprofit Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. However, anti-fraud task forces must keep applying pressure and expanding to urban areas where fraud is more rampant, he said.
"Health care fraud continually metastasizes, so the pressure from task forces must be continuous, relentless and an ever-expanding dragnet that's a permanent aspect of anti-fraud efforts," he said.