What Made Your Doctor Prescribe that Drug?

April 29, 2013

Could an all expenses paid fishing trip or dinner at a five star restaurant influence your doctor when it comes to which prescription to give you? It’s a serious concern which is the focus of attention again because the US Attorney in Manhattan filed suit against drug maker Novartis for allegedly paying kickbacks to increase its prescription-drug sales.

Whistleblower Case

A whistleblower first brought the case to light and now the federal government is putting its power behind the allegations with the filing of this federal lawsuit.  The Switzerland based drug-maker is accused of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute to increase sales of two hypertension drugs, Lotrel and Valturna.  US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said in a statement, “Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health-care programs were left holding the bag.”

Pharmacy Kickbacks?

This suit against Novartis comes just days after the same US attorney’s office filed suit against the company for another alleged violation of the False Claims Act.  That suit claims Novartis paid kickbacks, disguised as rebates and discounts, to at least 20 pharmacies for switching patients to its drug Myfortic, which is an immuno-suppressant.

It’s not the first time Novartis has faced such allegations.  Just three years ago, the company settled criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted drugs for off-label uses. Once again, the company was accused of providing illegal kickbacks to doctors through special junkets and entertainment.  Novartis paid $422.5 million to settle that case and signed a corporate integrity agreement to promise that its promotions would comply with federal anti-kickback laws.

Returning Money to Taxpayers

When whistleblowers working for pharmaceutical companies come forward to report suspected violations of these anti-kickback laws, it lays the groundwork for the government to recover what often amounts to millions of dollars in improper Medicare and Medicaid payments. That means money returned to the taxpayers.

Novartis denies wrongdoing in both of these most recent cases and vows to defend itself in court.