By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Authorities have charged 107 people including doctors and nurses for trying to defraud the federal Medicare healthcare program for the elderly and disabled of about $452 million, the Obama administration said on Wednesday.
At least 75 people in Miami, Houston and Baton Rouge were charged during the last two days for submitting false billing for home health care, mental health services, HIV infusions and physical therapy, among other charges.
President Barack Obama's administration has been pushing to squeeze out fraud from federal programs like Medicare as part of a broader attempt to stem soaring healthcare costs, arguing fraud can contribute to rising prices for services.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that Obama's landmark healthcare law has helped authorities further root out fraud, a law that is being challenged by Republicans and 26 out of the 50 U.S. states.
"Today's actions are another example of how the Affordable Care Act is helping the Obama administration fight fraud and strengthen the Medicare program," Sebelius said.
In Baton Rouge, seven people were arrested and charged with eight counts including conspiracy and healthcare fraud for billing Medicare for some $225.6 million in unnecessary services and in some cases not providing services billed.
They ran and worked at two community mental health centers in Louisiana where they billed for more group therapy sessions than were provided, including recreational and education psychotherapy, according to court records.
Medicare paid out more than $37.9 million for the services to the two centers in Baton Rouge, identified as Shifa Community Mental Health Center and Serenity Center, according to the court records.
U.S. prosecutors sought to have two of the owners of the centers, Hoor Naz Jafri and Roslyn Dogan, held without bond pending trial. They accused Dogan of stealing evidence from the prosecutors' office to obstruct the investigation, according to a detention memo.
Four others who worked as therapists at the centers pleaded guilty last month to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud for purporting to provide group therapy and document patients' attendance, the court documents said.
(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Jackie Frank)
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