Late last month it was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division that the United States has intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit filed on January 5, 2011, under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, that alleges that Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. (“Novartis”) paid kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe Novartis’ pharmaceutical products that were reimbursed by federal health care programs, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute (which prohibits the payment of remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and other federally-funded programs). Novartis is a Switzerland-based international pharmaceutical company with its U.S. headquarters located in New Jersey.
The federal lawsuit alleges that from January 2001 through at least November 2011, Novartis violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and its own internal policies concerning speaker programs (which require that the programs have an educational purpose and that slides about the company’s drugs be presented) by paying doctors to speak about certain drugs, including its hypertension drugs Lotrel and Valturna and its diabetes drug Starlix, at events that were often little or nothing more than social occasions for the doctors.
The federal lawsuit alleges that payments and lavish dinners given to doctors were actually kickbacks to the speakers and attendees to induce them to write prescriptions for Novartis drugs: in many instances Novartis made payments to doctors for purported speaker programs that either did not occur at all or that had few or no attendees, and thousands of programs were held all over the country at which few or no slides were shown and the doctors who participated spent little or no time discussing the drug at issue.
The federal lawsuit alleges that many speaker programs were also held under circumstances in which it would have been virtually impossible for any presentation to be made, such as on fishing trips off the Florida coast when no slides were shown on the boat, and other Novartis events held at Hooters restaurants.
During the period from January 2002 through November 2011, Novartis spent almost $65 million and conducted more than 38,000 speaker programs for just three drugs (the hypertension drugs, Lotrel and Valturna, and the diabetes drug, Starlix). A July 5 dinner for three, including the speaker, at a Washington, D.C. restaurant cost Novartis $672 per person (Novartis also paid a $1,000 honorarium to the speaker for this program, and one of the two attendees had attended the same program a short time earlier). On Valentine’s Day in 2006, Novartis paid $$1,042 per person for a meal for three people at an Iowa restaurant.
Did Novartis know about the alleged illegal kickbacks?
Novartis had previously entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2010 to settle False Claims Act lawsuits based in part on violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute due to illegal remuneration paid to doctors through such mechanisms as speaker programs, and Novartis signed a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General agreeing to implement a rigorous compliance program.
This is the second lawsuit to be filed in the Southern District during April 2013 against Novartis alleging illegal kickbacks: the U.S. Attorney’s Office sued Novartis on April 23, 2013 for allegedly paying kickbacks to pharmacies that were disguised as rebates and discounts in exchange for the pharmacies switching patients on CellCept or a generic drug to Novartis’ immunosuppressant drug, Myfortic.
It angers us when we read about the greed of pharmaceutical companies and the extent to which careless physicians and other health care providers cause serious and permanent injuries and harms to the innocent victims of medical malpractice in the United States, especially when we read about the well-financed successes of health care industry lobbyists protecting negligent doctors from being held fully responsible for the harms they cause their patients at the expense of the innocent victims of medical malpractice and their families by an increasing number of U.S. states imposing arbitrary and capricious laws that place unfair and inadequate limits on the amount of compensation that medical malpractice victims can recover from those responsible for causing their torment.
If you or a loved one may have been injured or suffered other serious harms as a result of medical errors or medical mistakes in the U.S., you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be willing to investigate if you may have a claim for compensation for the expenses and injures you incurred as a result of medical malpractice.
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