Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (NPC) is currently fielding two different lawsuits, filed just days apart from each other, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The first lawsuit was filed on April 23, 2013, alleging the company gave illegal kickbacks to pharmacists. A second lawsuit was filed on April 26, 2013, alleging illegal kickbacks were paid by NPC to health care providers. According to the DOJ, the government’s complaint seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act, and under the common law for paying kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe NPC products that were reimbursed by federal health care programs.
Doctors and Pharmacists Allegedly Paid to Prescribe.
Both lawsuits allege NPC violated the Anti-Kickback Statute. In the April 23, 2013, complaint against NPC the lawsuit alleges the company gave kickbacks, in the form of rebates and discounts to pharmacies in exchange for the pharmacies’ cooperation in switching patients from competitors’ drugs to NPC products.
The April 26, 2013, lawsuit accuses NPC of paying doctors to speak about certain drugs at events that were allegedly social occasions. Many of the programs were allegedly held in circumstances in which it would be impossible to have a presentation. According to the DOJ, this included fishing trips off the Florida coast and meetings in Hooters restaurants. NPC is also accused of treating health care professionals to expensive dinners. The payments and dinners were apparently kickbacks to the doctors for writing prescriptions for NPC drugs.
Doctors in the Sunshine State Allegedly Involved.
The lawsuit alleges at least six Florida doctors of participating in the bogus conferences and taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The doctors are not named or charged in the civil lawsuit.
To read the allegations listed in the lawsuit against Florida doctors, click here for the Tampa Bay Times article.
Novartis Claims Discounts and Physician Speaker Programs Were Legitimate.
In a press release, NPC disputes all of the government’s allegations. The pharmaceutical company states that discounts and rebates by pharmaceutical companies are a customary and legal procedure, as recognized by the government. It also addresses the physician speaker programs by saying the programs are also acceptable practices designed to inform physicians about the uses of different types of medicines. Click here to read the entire press release from NPC.
Kickbacks and The Law.
For years drug companies have paid doctors to speak about new drugs at educational conferences with other health care professionals. The practice is legal, but considered questionable.
Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, it’s a felony for health care professionals to accept bribes in exchange for recommending a drug or service covered by Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE or the Department of Veterans Affairs health care program.
Whistleblower or Qui Tam Lawsuits Can Results in a Big Pay Day.
The original complaint against NPC was allegedly filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by a former sales representative.
Individuals working in the health care industry, whether for hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, medical groups, home health agencies or others, often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government.
In a two-part blog series on whistleblower/qui tam lawsuits I explain types of false claims, the reward programs for coming forward with a false claim, who can file a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit, and more. Click here to read the first part of this blog, and click here for the second part.
The Health Law Firm Lawyers are Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.
Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent plaintiffs, patients, health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Have you head about these two lawsuits? What are your thoughts? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Masow, Julie. “Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation Disputes Allegations in Two US Government Lawsuits and Looks Forward to a Fair Discussion of the Facts.” Novartis Pharmaceuticals. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/newsroom/pressreleases/137176.shtml
Davis, Brittany Alana. “Lawsuit: Pharmaceutical Company Gave Kickbacks to Florida Doctors.” Tampa Bay Times. (May 3, 2013). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/lawsuit-pharmaceutical-company-gave-kickbacks-to-florida-doctors/2119133
Department of Justice. “United States Files Complaint Against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for Allegedly Paying Kickbacks to Doctors in Exchange for Prescribing Its Drugs.” Department of Justice. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/April/13-civ-481.html
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.