New Jersey-based Par Pharmaceutical Companies Inc. (Par) must pay more than will pay $45 million to resolve their criminal and civil liability under its March 5, 2013 guilty plea to illegally promoting off-label uses of the prescription drug Megace ES in violation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules and wrongfully promoting and billing Medicare for its use. The Par guilty plea followed a guilty plea by Par’s Chief Executive Officer Paul V. Campanelli earlier in the day in a New Jersey federal court.
Par also entered into a civil settlement that resolved three lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which let private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States and obtain part of the government’s recovery. The civil lawsuits filed in New Jersey are U.S. ex rel. McKeen and Combs v. Par Pharma ceutical, et al., U.S. ex rel. Thompson v. Par Pharmaceutical, et al., and U.S. ex rel. Elliott & Lundstrom v. Bristol-M yers Squibb, Par Pharma ceutical, et al. As part of today’s resolution, relators McKeen and Combs will receive $4.4 million. The actions provide another example of the growing role of whistleblowers to the success of federal health care fraud detection and enforcement efforts.
Par Criminal & Charges
The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) requires companies such as Par to specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to the FDA. Once approved, a drug may not be distributed in interstate commerce for unapproved or “off-label” uses until the company receives FDA approval for the new intended uses.
Par pleaded guilty to a federal a criminal misdemeanor violation of these rules by misbranding Megace ES in violation of the FDCA. Megace ES, a megestrol acetate drug product was approved by the FDA to treat anorexia, cachexia, or other significant weight loss suffered by patients with AIDS. Federal prosecutors charged that Megace ES distributed nationwide by Par was criminally misbranded because its FDA-approved labeling lacked adequate directions for use in the treatment of non-AIDS-related geriatric wasting, a use that was intended by Par but never approved by the FDA.
Federal Judge Judge Arleo fined Par $18 million and ordered $4.5 million in criminal forfeiture. Par also entered into a civil settlement agreement to settle associated civil liability.
The civil settlement agreement requires Par to pay $22.5 million to the federal government and various states to resolve claims arising from its off-label marketing. The civil settlement resolves allegations that Par, by promoting the sale and use of Megace ES for uses that were not FDA-approved and not covered by Federal health care programs, caused false claims to be submitted to these programs. The United States further alleged that Par deliberately and improperly targeted sales to elderly nursing home residents with weight loss, whether or not such patients suffered from AIDS, and launched a long-term care sales force to market to this population. During this marketing campaign, the government charged Par was aware of adverse side effects associated with the use of megestrol acetate in elderly patients, including an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, toxic reactions in elderly patients with impaired renal function, and mortality. The United States alleged that Par made unsubstantiated and misleading representations about the superiority of Megace ES over generic megestrol acetate for elderly patients to encourage providers to switch patients from generic megestrol acetate to MegaceES, despite having conducted no well-controlled studies to support a claim of greater efficacy for Megace ES.
As part of plea agreement and corporate integrity agreements reached to resolve its civil and criminal charges, Par committed to the Department of Justice, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and its Office of Inspector General. Par to implement several compliance measures and annually provide the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other agencies with certain reports.
The plea agreement and corporate integrity agreement include provisions that require Par to implement changes to the way it does business. The plea agreement and agreement prohibit Par from providing compensation to sales representatives or their managers based on the volume of sale of Megace ES, and in the corporate integrity agreement, based on the volume of Megace ES and any branded successor megestrol acetate drug.
The agreements also dictate individual accountability of Par’s board and executives. Under the agreement, Par is also required to change its executive compensation program to permit the company to recoup annual bonuses from covered executives if they, or their subordinates, engage in significant misconduct. Company executives may have to forfeit annual bonuses if they or their subordinates engage in significant misconduct, and sales representatives may not be paid incentive compensation for the drug involved in the case, or successor branded versions of that drug. For instance, the plea agreement requires Par give the Justice Department a sworn certification from its chief executive officer that the company has not unlawfully marketed any of its pharmaceutical products.
Par Prosecutions Part Of Larger Aggressive Health Care Fraud Enforcement
The Par civil and criminal charges were brought as part of the ongoing war against health care fraud conducted by federal and state officials. Its announcement is just one of high-profile health care fraud charges, settlements and convictions announced by the Justice Department in the first seven days of March. See, e.g., Health Care Clinic Director Pleads Guilty in Miami for Role in $63 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme; Orange County Doctor Convicted of Six Counts of Health Care Fraud in Multi-Million Dollar Scam involving Durable Medical Equipment; Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues Park Avenue Medical Associates for Medicare Billing Fraud; Par Pharmaceuticals Pleads Guilty and Agrees to Pay $45 Million to Resolve Civil and Criminal Allegations Related to Off-Label Marketing; Doctor gets 50 Month Sentence for Health Care Fraud & Tax Evasion; and Nelson County, Kentucky Drug Store Owner Charged With Health Care Fraud and Wire Fraud.
Already a lead federal enforcement priority for more than a decade, the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY2012 Report) documents that DOJ and HHS health care fraud enforcement activities scored big in 2012, and that qui tam whistleblowers played a big part and shared big in the profits. See Federal Health Care Fraud & Abuse Recovery of $4.2 Billion In FY 2012 Shows Enforcement Risks Growing.
Act To Manage Risks
In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges. Along with a broad health care fraud enforcement and compliance programs, these efforts should include targeted efforts to prevent and manage fraud and other whistleblower claims by employees, business partners and others.
For More Information Or Assistance
If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:
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