Criminal Justice

Florida Amps Up Health Fraud Prosecution

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Health-care fraud reportedly may rival drug-dealing as Florida’s biggest illegal industry, and prosecutors are starting to take notice.

Last year, for instance, 80 percent of the medicine billed to Medicare throughout the U.S. for patients with the HIV virus or full-blown AIDS emanated from South Florida, reports Reuters—even though the region has about only 10 percent of the eligible patients. About 60 people are working to prosecute Medicare fraud in the area, and the U.S. Attorney’s office is now bringing about 25 percent of all such cases nationwide.

Nonetheless, “If you’re a criminal and your sole goal is to make money, health-care fraud looks increasingly attractive,” says Alex Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “You can make several million dollars from health-care fraud and the penalties are much less severe than they are for narcotics trafficking.”

Some say, too, that the health care fraud problems that authorities are seeing could be only the tip of the iceberg.

“The rule with any white-collar crime is the well perpetrated cases are not detected,” says Malcolm Sparrow, an expert on fraud at the Kennedy School of Management at Harvard University. “The ones we catch are the stupid, foolish and outrageous.”

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