Nation’s Second-Largest Nursing Home Pharmacy to Pay $9.25 Million to Settle Kickback Allegations
The nation’s second-largest nursing home pharmacy, PharMerica Corp., has agreed to pay $9.25 million to resolve allegations that it solicited and received kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturer Abbott Laboratories in exchange for promoting the prescription drug Depakote for nursing home patients. PharMerica is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Elderly nursing home residents suffering from dementia have little control over the medications they receive and depend on the unbiased judgment of healthcare professionals for their daily care,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Kickbacks to entities making drug recommendations compromise their independence and undermine their role in protecting nursing home residents from the use of unnecessary drugs.”
Nursing homes rely on consultant pharmacists, such as those employed by PharMerica, to review their residents’ medical charts at least monthly and make recommendations to their physicians about what drugs should be prescribed for those residents. The settlement announced today resolves allegations that in exchange for recommending that physicians prescribe Depakote, an anti-epileptic drug manufactured by Abbott, to nursing home residents, PharMerica solicited and received kickbacks from Abbott. The government alleges that the kickbacks were disguised as rebates, educational grants and other financial support.
In May 2012, the United States, numerous individual states and Abbott entered into a $1.5 billion global civil and criminal resolution that, among other things, resolved Abbott’s liability under the False Claims Act for alleged kickbacks to nursing home pharmacies, including PharMerica. The settlement announced today resolves PharMerica’s role in that alleged kickback scheme.
“The settlement announced today should serve as a stark reminder to pharmaceutical companies and those with whom they do business that the Department of Justice and its investigative agencies will continue to monitor their activities,” said U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Giorno of the Western District of Virginia. “When those activities involve improprieties such as the payment of kickbacks, we will not hesitate to hold them accountable. We owe nothing less in fulfilling our duty to ensure that nursing home residents are provided with the appropriate drugs based upon their needs rather than the business interests of the companies providing the drugs.”
Approximately $6.75 million of the settlement will go to the United States, while $2.5 million has been allocated to cover Medicaid program claims by states that elect to participate in the settlement. The Medicaid program is jointly funded by the federal and state governments.
“Nursing home pharmacies accepting kickbacks from drug makers in exchange for prescribing certain prescription drugs puts vulnerable residents at risk for receiving unnecessary medications, corrupts medical decision making, and inflates health care costs,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Our agency will continue to root out such corrosive practices from our health care system.”
The settlement partially resolves allegations in two lawsuits filed in federal court in the Western District of Virginia by Richard Spetter and Meredith McCoyd, former Abbott employees. The lawsuits were filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in part in this case. As part of today’s resolution, Ms. McCoyd will receive $1 million from the federal share of the settlement amount.
This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $25.2 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $16.1 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
This matter was jointly handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia, HHS-OIG, the commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Attorney General and the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The cases are captioned United States ex rel. Spetter v. Abbott Labs., et al., Case No. 10-cv-00006 (W.D. Va.) and United States ex rel. McCoyd v. Abbott Labs., et al., Case No. 07-cv-00081 (W.D. Va.). The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.