Health care fraud search executed at Bradenton medical office

BRADENTON -- Twelve boxes were seized from a Bradenton medical office Thursday after a federal search warrant was executed regarding allegation of health care fraud.

The Tampa Bay Medicare Fraud Strike Force arrived about 10 a.m. at Suncoast Brace and Limb, 1878 59th St. W., in Blake Park, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman. Employees at adjacent offices said agents wearing bullet-proof vests gained access through the building's front and rear entrances.

Agencies on scene included the FBI, the Florida Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Inspector General.

According to the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Suncoast Brace and Limb is a Medicare-approved business that "provides custom molded lightweight artificial limbs and thermo-plastic braces."

Basis of the allegations and probable cause for the warrant have not been released as the investigation is ongoing.

"It is our job to minimize waste, fraud and abuse within programs in the Department of Health and Human Services," said Don White, HHS spokesman.

White said Medicare and Medicaid are the two largest health care programs monitored by HHS.

According to stopmedicarefraud.gov, fraud can include billing Medicare for services or equipment not received. Other common ways health care fraud is committed is by billing for unnecessary products or services or charging for a more expensive service when a less expensive procedure was performed, according to the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Tampa is one of nine U.S. cities in which federal, state and local agencies are pooling resources to create strike forces against health care fraud, White said.

In Florida, the agencies are expected to recover more than $160 million from January to July of this year, White said.

After serving the warrant, agents closed the blinds to conduct interviews and search the premises. An officer, wearing a T-shirt and khaki pants, stood outside the door. Two people were allowed to deliver mail to the business. Several agents stepped outside to make phone calls or retrieve items from unmarked vehicles.

Twelve boxes were loaded into a moving truck about 1:30 p.m.

A woman who answered the business' phone following the search called the charge "bogus" and

declined further comment.

Peter Thomas, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics based in Washington, D.C., works with suppliers and manufacturers across the country and in Florida to ensure compliance.

"It is extremely im-portant for all providers and suppliers of any kindof service or device toMedicare beneficiariesto comply with the Medi-care rules," Thomas said.

Businesses in the orthotics and prosthetics field must meet federal qualifications, and in Florida, be licensed, he said.

Thomas, who does not represent Suncoast Brace and Limb, said aggres-sive auditing of companies providing and supply-ing durable medicalequipment has affectedlegitimate as well asnoncompliant businesses.

Suncoast Brace and Limb serves Manatee, Sarasota, south Hillsborough and Citrus counties. The business joined the Manatee Chamber of Commerce in 2007.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.