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A Zero-Tolerance Approach to Health Care Fraud

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talks about the aggressive new effort with Attorney General Holder to crack down on fraud in our health care system.

If a friend or family member gets robbed, you would want to see the perpetrator brought to justice. The same is true for catching criminals who steal money from American taxpayers and businesses. This exact scenario is playing out in the form of health care fraud. Criminals are stealing billions of dollars from American taxpayers, the federal government, and corporations – and it is unacceptable. At a time when many families are scraping together every last dollar to pay their medical bills, fraud, waste, and abuse in our health care system are unacceptable.

This administration is taking a zero-tolerance approach to health care fraud. Yet this is not a job for just one agency or one law enforcement team. It requires a coordinated effort from the public and private sectors. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder and I convened a first-ever National Summit on Health Care Fraud, bringing together the public and private sectors to identify and discuss innovative ways to eliminate fraud in our health care system.

Participants at today’s summit include government officials; prosecutors and investigators; state law enforcement; private sector health plans and insurers; and representatives of consumers and providers to discuss and find innovative ways to detect, prevent and deter fraud.

Today’s Summit builds upon the work accomplished by HEAT, the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team. This initiative was launched last May and is led by Attorney General Holder and myself. Through this initiative, we’ve been able to employ better enforcement tools. We’ve significantly expanded our Medicare Fraud Strike Forces to operate in 7 major cities across the country.

Since 2007, the Strike Forces have charged more than 500 defendants for health care fraud crimes resulting in more than $1 billion in fraudulent billing. Over 200 defendants have been sentenced to prison, with sentences ranging from two months to 30 years. Added up, we’ve done more to fight health care fraud in 2009 than in any other year. But we’re not done fighting. Building on the investments the President made in fraud fighting in last year’s budget, he will request $1.7 billion in his budget to support programs to fight fraud..

Through our collective efforts, we will defeat health care fraud; we will protect American consumers and businesses by tracking down the criminals and holding them accountable, and we’ll put the brakes on future fraudulent activity.

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Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of Health and Human Services