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Business highlights for Oct. 5

Business highlights for Oct. 5
By The Associated Press Modified: October 4, 2012 at 8:16 pm •  Published: October 5, 2012
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Medicare fraud nets 91

A federal strike force has charged 91 people, including a hospital president, doctors and nurses, with Medicare fraud schemes in seven cities involving $429 million in false billings. At a news conference Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the case reveals an alarming trend in criminal efforts to steal billions of taxpayer dollars for personal gain. Holder called the action one of the largest such law enforcement efforts of its kind. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said her agency used new authority under the Obama administration's health care law to stop future payments to many of the health care providers suspected of fraud. The law enforcement effort focused on fraudulent Medicare schemes in Baton Rouge, La.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles and Miami.

Fed discusses rate issues

The Federal Reserve wants to find a clearer way to signal to the public when it might start raising interest rates. The Fed has told investors that it plans to keep short-term rates low for at least another three years. But it appears to be leaning toward setting a more specific target, according to minutes from the Fed's last policy meeting. Most members agreed at the Sept. 12-13 meeting that linking a future rate increase to a level of unemployment or some other numeric target could be useful. The minutes show members have yet to agree on what the economic target should be. The discussion signals another option the Fed might pursue if its latest stimulus efforts don't boost the still-weak economy.

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The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, a level consistent with modest hiring. Weekly applications rose last week by 4,000 from the previous week's level of 363,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The previous week was revised higher from an initial reading of 359,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, was unchanged at 375,000. Unemployment benefit applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Factory orders fall

Orders to U.S. factories fell in August from July, mostly because of a sharp drop in volatile aircraft orders. The decline offset an increase in orders that reflect corporate investment plans. The Commerce Department said Thursday that factory orders dropped 5.2 percent in August, the biggest decline in more than three years. The loss was largely because demand for commercial aircraft plunged 102 percent. That pulled down orders for long-lasting manufactured goods by 13.2 percent. In one positive sign, orders for business equipment and software, often considered a proxy for investment plans, rose 1.1 percent, after two steep declines. Still, orders for steel, electrical equipment, and industrial machinery all fell.

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