Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on the Justice Department's Efforts to Combat Healthcare Fraud Nationwide

Miami, Florida
Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 3:15 P.M.

Thank you, and good afternoon. I'm pleased to be here today to highlight the importance of the job that the Justice Department is doing to fight health care fraud. I’d particularly like to thank this United States Attorney’s Office, the Criminal Division, and everyone here for your hard work.

Our nation's health care system offers high quality care through the latest technology and treatments, provided by the best doctors in the world. We spend trillions of dollars a year on this care – about one out of every six dollars of our economy. A large percentage of that money is spent by government, on behalf of the poor, the elderly, veterans, the disabled, and children.

That money is willingly, and even gratefully, spent for the sick and injured, but the sheer number of zeroes following the dollar sign is irresistible to crooks and conmen.

Fighting the fraud and theft committed by these criminals is vital to preserving our health care system – vital to its financial solvency, as well as its integrity. The Department’s attorneys and agents make up our front line in stopping those criminals, and I want to thank you for all that you do.

Health care fraud is an especially important issue here in South Florida. U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta and his staff have made fighting it a priority, and their work has been a model for others. And the Strike Force initiated by the Criminal Division under the leadership of former Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher has demonstrated how collaboration can produce dramatic results.

The work you have started here has led the country on this issue. Combined, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Strike Force have brought in this District alone over 120 cases against nearly 200 defendants, alleging a total of $638 million in fraud. Cases brought in this district account for almost 20 percent of the nation's federal health care fraud prosecutions. Those are large numbers, and this great achievement is the result of your efforts.

The successes achieved here in South Florida are a model for other districts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is now partnering with the Criminal Division on health-care related prosecutions. So far, they have secured indictments against people and organizations that collectively are alleged to have made almost $13 million worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare.

Southern Florida and Central California are leading the charge, but the effort to combat health care fraud has been a national one. Nationwide over the past four years, the Department has opened more than 3,600 criminal health care fraud investigations, and 3,300 civil investigations.

Cases like the ones you prosecute and investigate are the mainstay of our efforts—and I'm referring to both the civil and the criminal sides. Every patient who takes kickbacks for unnecessary services covered by Medicare might mean a real patient who doesn't get the treatment he should. Every bottle of fake compounded medicine means a patient who won't get the medicine she needs.

You police the marketplace to protect consumers and the government from unscrupulous and fraudulent providers. Your work brings these criminals to justice, and protects our health care system from those to whom stealing dollars is more important than saving lives. And the level of cooperation you've achieved with other federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services provides a great model for other offices to follow.

Even with limited resources, you have done outstanding work in making the most of our budget and staff, through the three-pronged strategy of: going after the money civilly, bringing prompt prosecutions of the most serious offenders, and continuing to take on large, complex cases.

Each of these three elements is important, and in combination they are powerful. You're getting the word out that no criminal is safe. Not the fly-by-night supplier whose storefront is really a vacant office; not the multi-billion dollar corporation that's marking up prices by 2000 percent for Medicare and Medicaid; and not the individual corporate officer who files a false certification to back up the claims.

All of these cases take criminals out of the system, and save or return much-needed dollars. They also deter others from trying to game the system. This last point is important.

We cannot prosecute our way out of this problem. For every crooked durable medical equipment company we bust, there is another one to replace it before the ink on the indictment is dry. For every wayward provider we charge, there are others willing to engage in the same frauds. The money, and the temptation, are simply too big.

That's why the deterrent effect is such an important part of your cases. These are highly deterrable offenses, and those who might otherwise be tempted to commit them do not want to do time.

In addition, we must learn lessons from these prosecutions that will help us to devise ways of preventing a recurrence of these frauds. That is one reason why the cooperative efforts of agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services are vital to our long-term success. My message to all of you is to keep it up.

I thank you for hard work, and I know your country thanks you too.