Amgen Settlement Highlights Anti-Kickback Exposures From Whistleblowers, Need For Effective Compliance & Risk Management

California-based biotechnology giant Amgen, Inc. has agreed to pay $24,9 Million to resolve Justice Department False Claims Act charges that the biotechnology giant violated the False Claims Act by paying illegal kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers to promote the sale of its Aranesp and other products.  The settlement announced by the Justice Department on April 16, 2013 is the latest in a series of settlements resulting from efforts by Federal officials to target pharmaceutical and other providers for violating federal anti-kickback and other health care fraud laws brought by the Justice Department. See Amgen to Pay U.S. $24.9 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations.  It highlights the growing risk of civil prosecution that pharmaceutical companies face for offering or providing prohibited kickbacks, as well as the growing role of whistleblowers in civil prosecutions under the anti-kickback law.

Amgen Settlement Highlights

The Amgen Settlement Agreement resolves Federal allegations that Amgen paid illegal kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers Omnicare Inc., PharMerica Corporation and Kindred Healthcare Inc. in return for implementing “therapeutic interchange” programs designed to switch Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from a competitor drug to Aranesp, which Amgen manufactures.    

The government alleged that the kickbacks took the form of performance-based rebates tied to market-share or volume thresholds.   The government also charged that, as part of the therapeutic interchange program, Amgen distributed materials to consultant pharmacists and nursing home staff encouraging the use of Aranesp for patients who did not have anemia associated with chronic renal failure.

The Amgen Settlement Agreement resolves a civil lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provision of the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens with knowledge of false claims to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.   The False Claims Act suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina is captioned United States ex rel. Kurnik v. Amgen Inc., et al.

When announcing the settlement, Justice Department officials emphasized federal officials’ commitment to pursuing pharmaceutical companies for paying illegal kickbacks to secure drug sales.  “We will continue to pursue pharmaceutical companies that pay kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers to influence drug prescribing decisions,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.   “Patients in skilled nursing facilities deserve care that is free of improper financial influences.”

The Settlement Agreement and lawsuit that it resolves also show the key role that whistleblowers can play in these types of prosecutions.  Qui tam and other fraud reports made by employees or other business partners have become a significant tool in the Federal government’s war against health care fraud.   The Amgen Settlement and other recent prosecutions and settlement show that Federal officials are acting on this promise and that whistleblowers increasingly are helping them to do so.

As this trend continues, pharmaceutical companies and other health care providers subject to the anti-kickback and other health care fraud laws will need to review their existing and former practices to identify pre-existing and ongoing exposures, and decide what steps to take, if any, to mitigate these risks.  In addition to considering what corrective actions, if any are needed generally, these organizations also should consider the workforce management and other internal controls that will help promote compliance with these policies and manage potential whistleblower and other liabilities.

In addition to working to promote compliance with the False Claims Act and other health care laws, pharmaceutical companies and health care providers need to implement strong internal investigation, audit, and employee and contractor management procedures to help self-discover and address potential compliance or other liability concerns.  These processes and policies should involve but not be limited to hotlines and other processes for reporting suspected fraud or other misconduct.  Most companies also should consider adopting and enforcing strong policies that require employees, contractors and other business partners to timely report and coöperate in the investigation and redress of potential health care fraud or other legal violations, should promptly investigate and redress as needed alleged noncompliance, and should retaliation against individuals making these reports in good faith. 

For More Information Or Assistance

For help  reviewing and updating your Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute, or other health care compliance, workforce, internal controls and risk management policies, practices or programs; assessing the strength of your organizations existing risk management and compliance controls under these laws or other healthcare laws and regulations; or in addressing other compliance or health care concerns, please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail here or via telephone at 469.767.8872.   To review  and register to receive other helpful updates or for more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see here.

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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD 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. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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 help responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to get information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.

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