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Scores facing health fraud charges

A US law enforcement crackdown has charged 91 people - including doctors and other medical professionals - with participating in fraud schemes involving 295 million US dollars in false billing through the federal Medicare programme.

Attorney general Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that 70 people were charged in indictments unsealed on Tuesday and Wednesday and 21 others were charged earlier, beginning on August 24.

Charges were filed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Brooklyn, New York City; Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston; Los Angeles and Miami.

At a news conference, the attorney general said that those arrested are "jeopardising the integrity of our health care system".

Ms Sebelius called the law enforcement initiative "a powerful warning to those who would try to defraud taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries".

Eleven of the people charged were doctors, three were nurses and 10 were licensed health professionals.

Over half the defendants - 46 - and 160 million US dollars of the total in false claims came from South Florida, still leading the US in Medicare fraud.

In Miami, US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said investigators noticed a new twist in which people who already were receiving Medicare disability checks were recruited with promises they could live in a halfway house in South Florida - as long as they agreed to receive mental health services they did not need.

Many were addicted to drugs or alcohol, and some were homeless, and Mr Ferrer said they would be threatened with eviction if they did not participate in the fraud scheme.

"They were already in the system. They were lured in by the promise of having housing. It was, 'Come and have a fresh start in Miami'," Mr Ferrer said.

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