FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2021
REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER AT THE REGIONAL HEAT SUMMIT
Good morning. It’s a pleasure to join with Secretary Sebelius – and with U.S. Attorney [Carmen] Ortiz, Deputy Administrator [Peter] Budetti, Inspector General [Dan] Levinson, and Assistant Attorney General [Tony] West – in welcoming you all here. I want to thank Chancellor [J. Keith] Motley and the University of Massachusetts Boston for hosting us. And I want to thank each of you for your participation in today’s discussion – and for your partnership in our national fight against health-care fraud.
We can all be encouraged by the number of people, and the diversity of perspectives, represented here. I am glad to see that top federal and state officials; administration leaders; federal, state, and local law enforcement officers; health-care providers; as well as leading physicians, business executives, caregivers, investigators, and prosecutors have come together for this critical summit.
We share the same goals of protecting potential victims, safeguarding precious taxpayer dollars, and ensuring the strength of our health-care system. Here in Boston – a city known for its world-class medical and nursing schools, its health research institutions, its 14 teaching hospitals, and its historic leadership in expanding access to healthcare – I know that many of you have concerns about the devastating effects of health-care fraud. Despite the commitment you represent and the great work being done across Massachusetts and beyond – we can all agree that it’s time to take our nationwide fight against health-care fraud to the next level.
That’s what today is all about. This summit is an important step forward – an opportunity to build on what has been discussed, and achieved, since January – when Secretary Sebelius and I convened the first “National Summit on Health Care Fraud” in Washington. This past summer, we kicked off a series of regionally-focused conversations so that we could better understand, and more effectively address, the unique challenges being faced in different areas of the country. So far, Secretary Sebelius and I have been to Miami, Los Angeles, and New York. In the coming months, we plan to hold additional summits in Detroit, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. Like Boston, many of these cities have become “hot spots” for health-care fraud schemes. Here, and across New England, these crimes have reached crisis proportions, driving up health-care costs for everyone – and also hurting the long-term solvency of our essential Medicare and Medicaid programs.
But we are fighting back – in bold, innovative, and coordinated ways.
Last year brought an historic step forward in this fight – when the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services launched the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, known as “HEAT.” Through HEAT, we’ve fostered unprecedented collaboration among our agencies and our law enforcement partners. We’ve ensured that the fight against criminal and civil health-care fraud is a Cabinet-level priority. And we’ve strengthened the work – and the record of success – of our Medicare Strike Forces.
This approach is working.
In fact, HEAT’s impact has been recognized by President Obama, whose FY-2011 budget request includes an additional $60 million to expand our network of Strike Forces to additional cities and to increase our civil False Claims Act enforcement.
With these new resources, and our continued commitment to collaboration, I have no doubt we’ll be able to extend HEAT’s record of achievement. And this record – quite simply – is extraordinary.
In just the last fiscal year, we obtained settlements and judgments amounting to more than $2.5 billion in False Claims Act matters alleging health care fraud – the largest annual figure in history and an increase of more than 60% from fiscal year 2009. We also opened more than 2,000 new criminal and civil health-care fraud investigations, reached an all-time high in the number of health-care fraud defendants charged, stopped numerous large-scale fraud schemes in their tracks, and returned more than $2.5 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund and more than $800 million to cash-strapped state Medicaid programs.
This work continues to grow. Just yesterday, the Department announced settlements of more than $200 million with two pharmaceutical companies – Elan Corporation PLC, and its U.S. subsidiary Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc. – to resolve allegations of illegal and off-label marketing of an anti-seizure medication. And we can all be encouraged, in particular, by what’s been accomplished in Massachusetts.
As Assistant Attorney General West highlighted earlier today, the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in this district played a leading role in reaching historic settlements – including the largest health-care fraud settlement in history. Just last week, this district helped reach a settlement of more than $420 million with several pharmaceutical companies to resolve allegations of a scheme to report false and inflated prices – prices that federal healthcare programs rely on to set payment rates – for numerous pharmaceutical products.
In all, the District of Massachusetts has recovered, as [U.S. Attorney] Carmen [Ortiz] noted this morning, more than $4 billion in civil and criminal health-care fraud settlements over the past two years. That’s right – $4 billion. You should all be proud of these health-care-fraud enforcement efforts. I certainly am.
As figures like these demonstrate, health-care fraud schemes across this region are being aggressively and permanently shut down. This is the result of the hard work of many of the attorneys and investigators in this room. And, in particular, I want to note the great work being done by Boston’s “Special Focus Team,” which attacks large-scale, corporate health-care fraud – from pharmaceutical fraud to medical-device company fraud – head on. These efforts are providing proof that we can make measurable, meaningful progress in the fight against health-care fraud.
But we cannot do it alone.
We need your help. We need your insights. And we will rely on your recommendations to help guide and enhance HEAT’s critical work.
Despite all that’s been accomplished since HEAT was launched, health-care fraud remains a significant problem. At this very moment, for example, we know that an alarming number of scam artists and criminals are attempting to profit from misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, which Congress passed – and President Obama signed into law – earlier this year.
Fortunately, this landmark legislation provides new resources and includes tough new rules and penalties to help stop and prevent health-care fraud. And the Justice Department will continue to work vigorously with our law enforcement and private sector partners to ensure that those who engage in fraud cannot use this new law to steal from taxpayers, patients, seniors, and other vulnerable Americans. We will keep industry leaders informed about emerging fraud schemes and help institute effective compliance and anti-fraud programs. And we will punish offenders to the fullest extent of the law. That’s a promise.
As Secretary Sebelius and I do our part in Washington to build on the progress that’s been made in combating health-care fraud, we want to work closely with you – and with state and local officials, officers, leaders, and advocates across the country. Our continued success depends on the commitment we make, the priorities we establish, and the partnerships we forge now. And your presence here today gives me great hope about what we can accomplish together going forward.
Thank you all, once again, for joining us and for your ongoing commitment to protecting the American people and ensuring the strength and integrity of our health-care system. I look forward to working with you all.
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Attorney General Eric Holder attended the White House Correspondents Dinner this weekend, where he mingled with the star of HBO’s Entourage (and even asked for a guest spot) and impressed ‘Golden Girl’ Betty White.
Holder was a guest of CBS along with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Non-politicians guests of CBS included actor Morgan Freeman, actress Julianna Margulies, comedian Chelsea Handler and Ayla Brown, daughter of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).
At the dinner, White was seated a few chairs from Holder, who attended with his wife Dr. Sharon Malone.
“I’ve never felt such energy at an event,” White said. “I cannot believe I’m sitting at the same table with the Attorney General. It’s rather mind-boggling.”
Later, at the Bloomberg-Vanity Fair party, Holder “headed straight for ‘Entourage’ star Adrian Grenier” Politics Daily reported. “The AG confessed how much he loooooooves the show, ticking off a couple of last season’s plot twists before asking when the new season starts (June 27). Holder told Grenier he’d happily do a guest spot. ‘I am just trying to work my way on the show some time.’ ‘I might be able to do something about that,’ replied the actor.”
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On the heels of President Obama’s call for government belt-tightening, Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday pledged to apply more pressure on health-care fraudsters who siphon billions of dollars from the federal fisc each year.
Holder, speaking at a health-care fraud summit at the National Institutes of Health, said he would push to strengthen a Cabinet-level team devoted to the effort, as well as beef up anti-fraud strike forces around the country. Holder also said he would ask Congress for more funding and legislation targeting fraud, and reach out to the private sector — one of the aims of Thursday’s summit.
The Attorney General said more than $60 billion in public and private health-care spending was lost to fraud each year. Holder, joined by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, brought the oft-cited estimate to life with a bit of pop-culture.
“That is a staggering amount of money,” Holder said in prepared remarks. “It’s half the entire economy of Secretary Sebelius’s home state of Kansas. It’s more than the net worth of America’s eight largest private foundations. And it’s 33 times the amount of money that Avatar — now the highest-earning movie of all time — has made at the box office.”
Holder and Sebelius lead the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, known as HEAT, which supports the efforts of seven health-care fraud strike forces around the country. Thursday’s summit, attended by representatives from the insurance industry and health care-provider community, was intended to ally the public and private sectors in HEAT’s mission.
“There’s no question that our ability to protect taxpayer dollars, to ensure the viability of our government health care programs, and to strengthen our national health care system depends on our ability to expand the discussion beyond the federal government,” Holder said.
In his State of the Union speech to Congress on Wednesday, Obama said he was prepared to freeze government spending for three years, starting in 2011, and urged Congress to pass a “pay as you go” law. And anti-fraud efforts have also taken on new urgency as Congress tussles over health-care legislation that could cost north of a trillion dollars if enacted.
Holder noted that the department recovered more than $2 billion in 2009 under the False Claims Act. On the criminal enforcement front, the department charged more than 800 people for health-care fraud and related crimes and won more than 580 convictions, he said.
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A joint strike force targeting health-care fraud is pushing into new regions, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, comprising the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, will have a presence in Tampa, Baton Rouge and Brooklyn, the department said. The two-and-a-half-year old strike force already has teams seeded in South Florida, Los Angeles, Houston and Detroit.
From today’s news release:
The Strike Force operations in Brooklyn, Tampa and Baton Rouge are another important step of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their joint efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid fraud through enhanced cooperation
Word of the expansion came as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the head of the Criminal Division, announced the arrests of 30 people charged in an alleged scheme to submit more than $61 million in false Medicare claims. Indictments were unsealed in Miami, Detroit and Brooklyn. Also on hand at the news conference in Brooklyn was acting U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell of the Eastern District of New York.
More than 460 people, who collectively billed more than $1 billion to Medicare, have been indicted since the strike force began operations, according to the department. The indictments have generated more than 250 guilty pleas and 20 trial convictions, and seek court-ordered restitution in excess of $420 million.
The emphasis on Medicare fraud recoveries comes amid a debate over a major health care reform bill and health care costs.
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Dan Watkins, a real estate attorney who was an advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Kansas, is downplaying an Associated Press report that said he “confirmed that he has been recommended for the top federal law enforcement post in the state.”
“What I told the person was, ‘there’s no story, come back in three weeks,’” Watkins told Main Justice in an interview. (Sounds like a potential candidate to us.)
But the Kansas City Star wrote in this blog post in February that Watkins was a lock for the U.S. Attorney post. The reporter, Steve Kraske, said the “secret” of Watkins’ appointment “[had] been out for a while.”
When questioned about the blog post by Main Justice, Watkins dismissed it as “old.” “I don’t want to be presumptuous,” he said. “I’m not a nominee at this point. I don’t know where the process is at this point.”
Watkins contributed $2,250 to the Obama campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Kansas City Star calls him an ally of Kathleen Sebelius, who campaigned for Obama as governor of Kansas and now serves as secretary of Health and Human Services.
The last presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney in Kansas was Eric F. Melgren, who held the position from 2002 to 2008, when he became a federal judge. Lanny D. Welch is now running the office.
According to The AP, the White House consulted with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Brownback’s spokesman told The AP the vetting process is still ongoing. The only Democrat in the Kansas delegation is Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas City.
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Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius just announced a new initiative to combat Medicare fraud. The interagency effort, the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), will coincide with an expansion of Strike Force team operations to Detroit and Houston. Medicare Fraud Strike Forces, currently in operation in South Florida and Los Angeles, fight Medicare fraud on a targeted local level. The first Strike Force team was established in South Florida in 2007 and has brought in $186 million in criminal ines and civil recoveries. The Los Angeles team, created about a year ago, over $55 million has been ordered in restitution to the Medicare program.
“With this announcement, we raise the stakes on health care fraud by launching a new effort with increased tools, resources and a sustained focus by senior-level leadership,” said Holder. “Every year we lose tens of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid funds to fraud. Those billions represent health care dollars that could be spent on medicine, elder care or emergency room visits, but instead are wasted on greed. This is unacceptable, and the Justice Department is committed to working with the Department of Health and Human Services to eradicate it.”
“Today, we are turning up the heat on perpetrators who steal from the taxpayers and threaten the future of Medicare and Medicaid,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Most providers are doing the right thing and providing care with integrity. But we cannot and will not allow billions of dollars to be stolen from Medicare and Medicaid through fraud, waste and serious abuse of the system. It’s time to bring the fight against fraud into the 21st century and put the resources on the streets and out into the community to protect the American taxpayers and lower the cost of health care.”
“We know these strike forces work. I believe a targeted civil and criminal enforcement strategy in these locations will have a substantial impact on deterring fraud and abuse, protecting patients and the elderly from scams, and ensuring that taxpayer funds are not stolen,” said Holder.
The team will build on demonstration projects by the HHS Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that focus on suppliers of durable medical equipment (DME). These projects increase site visits to potential suppliers to prevent imposters from posing as legitimate DME providers. Other initiatives include:
- Increasing training for providers on Medicare compliance, offering providers the resources and the knowledge they need to help identify and prevent fraud.
- Improving data sharing between the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and law enforcement so we can identify patterns that lead to fraud.
- Strengthening program integrity activities to monitor and ensure Medicare Parts C (Medicare Advantage plans) and D (prescription drug programs) compliance and enforcement.
You can visit the website here: www.hhs.gov/stopmedicarefraud
Fraud prevention efforts are also strengthened in President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget. The President’s budget invests $311 million – a 50 percent increase from 2009 funding – to strengthen program integrity activities within the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Combined, the anti-fraud efforts in the President’s budget could save $2.7 billion over five years by improving oversight and stopping fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs.