Suspects accused in Florida of billing Medicare for overseas patients

By Zachary Fagenson MIAMI (Reuters) - Several employees of a south Florida company were arrested on Wednesday and accused of billing more than $25 million to Medicare and Medicaid on behalf of U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The suspects, according to a late October indictment, were charged with conspiracy to commit healthcare and wire fraud. Recipients of Medicare, a government health insurance program for the elderly, must live in the United States to receive benefits. Eight of 11 suspects have been arrested and two of three who are at large, Freddy Zeron, 52, and Edgardo Rodriguez, 47, are from Nicaragua. Authorities said the suspects, who worked for Florida Healthcare Plus, a private Coral Gables-based company, recruited Americans living in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans and Florida Medicaid and paid for them to travel to the United States, claiming they lived in the country. “Unfortunately, scams that bilk our healthcare system do not stop at our borders,” George Piro, special agent in charge for the FBI in Miami, said in a statement. “Providing Medicare services in foreign countries but billing as if they occurred in the United States is in-your-face fraud,” said Derrick Jackson, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General over Florida. The U.S. addresses that were provided were those of friends and relatives of those running the alleged scheme. Among those charged was Pedro Hernandez, 51, who was Florida Healthcare Plus’ chief operating officer until May 2013, according to the indictment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida also said it was seeking to seize $10 million of the more than $25 million the group is accused of stealing. (THe story corrects paragraph 8 to reflect that Hernandez left Florida Healthcare Plus in 2013.) (Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)