A recent investigation by ProPublica found that certain doctors who prescribed certain drug brands the most, also have financial ties to the companies that manufacture those prescription drugs. Using Medicare payment data, ProPublica and National Public Radio (NPR) researched physicians who prescribed the most heavily promoted drugs of 2010 and 2011. It was discovered that many of the doctors allegedly had financial relationships with prescription drug manufacturers. ProPublica states that they initiated this investigation out of fear that pharmaceutical payments are influencing doctors to prescribe an expensive, brand name drug over a cheaper, generic version.
To read the ProPublica analysis released June 25, 2013, click here.
According to ProPublica, the company is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
By The Numbers.
The ProPublica analysis looked at a number of drug companies. Until now, doctors’ prescribing practices have not been made public. Disclosure of these records is now mandated in the Affordable Care Act.
According to NPR, at least 17 of the 20 doctors who prescribed the blood pressure medicine Bystolic the most often collected money from the maker, Forest Laboratories. Forest paid those doctors speaking fees for promoting Bystolic at seminars to other doctors. These fees allegedly ranged from $1,250 to $85,750. Additionally, seven of the speakers allegedly received at least $1,000 for meals. Nine of the top 10 prescribers of Exelon, an Alzheimer’s drug, collected speakers’ fees from Novartis. Eight of the top 10 Nucynta prescribers were paid by the painkiller’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, for similar services, according to NPR.
Drug Makers Shell Out Millions in Fines for Using Illegal Kickbacks.
Federal whistleblower lawsuits against several pharmaceutical companies have alleged that these speaking payments are little more than “thinly veiled kickbacks,” which are illegal. According to NPR, three years ago Forest paid $313 million to the federal government to settle allegations about its marketing of drugs. The lawsuit alleged the company made cash payments disguised as consulting fees to doctors.
Novartis is currently fielding two different lawsuits filed 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 Novartis 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 Novartis products that were reimbursed by federal health care programs. Click here to read a previous blog on these lawsuits.
Individual providers are also liable for accepting prohibited remunerations from drug companies. The use of these databases for mining prescribing/promoting practices is likely to lead to increased scrutiny on physicians.
What the Law Says About Using Kickbacks.
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.
Relationship Between Physicians and Pharmaceutical Companies Allegedly Does Not Influence Prescribing Practices.
In a survey, doctors said they are not influenced by relationships with pharmaceutical companies, according to a FiercePharma article. The doctors with a relationship to Forest state a number of reasons for prescribing Bystolic versus other blood pressure dugs. None of the reasons for prescribing Bystolic related to the money they received from Forest.
In the same FiercePharma article, drug makers said they do not choose speakers based on a doctor’s prescribing habits. Click here to read the FiercePharma article.
So is this all a coincidence?
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Is it a coincidence that top prescribers also collect from drug makers? As a health care professional, would you be influenced to prescribe one drug if you were getting paid by the drug maker? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Staton, Tracy. “Top-Prescribing Docs Collect Cash From Drugmakers.” FiercePharma. (June 25, 2013). From: http://www.fiercepharma.com/story/top-prescribing-docs-collect-cash-drugmakers/2013-06-25
Ornstein, Charles, Weber, Tracy and Lafleur, Jennifer. “Top Medicare Prescibers Rake In Speaking Fees From Drugmakers.” National Public Rado. (June 25, 2013). From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/06/25/195232541/top-medicare-prescribers-rake-in-speaking-fees-from-drugmakers
Ornstein, Charles, Weber, Tracy and Lafleur, Jennifer. “Top Medicare Prescibers Rake In Speaking Fees From Drugmakers.” ProPublica. (June 25, 2013). From: http://www.propublica.org/article/top-medicare-prescribers-rake-in-speaking-fees-from-drugmakers
About the Authors: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with 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 Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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.
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