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By Ian Salisbury
July 22, 2016
Wifredo Ferrer, left, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, speaks during a news conference along with George Piro, center, Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation Miami and Tyler Smith, Assistant Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Miami.

The Justice Department busted what it says is the biggest Medicare fraud ever uncovered, a South Florida scheme that bilked $1 billion from the government program for the elderly and disabled.

In a press release Friday, the government claimed the fraud involved billing for unnecessary services at a network of 30 Miami skilled nursing and assisted living facilities run by 47-year-old Philip Esformes.

The Justice Department also alleges Esformes and two co-conspirators also received kick-backs after steering patients to other local facilities where they received more unnecessary treatment.

Fraud is one of the biggest drains on the government healthcare. One recent estimate put the total cost of fraud (and money diverted to fighting fraud) for Medicare and Medicaid at more than $270 billion a year, essentially boosting their costs to taxpayers by about 10%.

With its historical links to organized crime and millions of retirees, this isn’t the first time South Florida has played a role in a healthcare scam. In fact, Miami’s own New Times recently called the area “Ground Zero for Medicare Fraud.”

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