The government continues its crackdown on the use of bribes in the medical field. Although it is noble to better ensure physicians are motivated by patient need and not financial gain, the distinction between what is legal and what is not can be difficult to determine. A recent case provides an example of this distinction and the extreme penalties that can come with a violation.
Massive drug manufacturer pays over $700 million to settle bribery claims
The case involves the Swiss drug maker, Novartis. Novartis recently agreed to settle health care fraud claims with the U.S. government. The agreement involves a payment to the U.S. government of approximately $730 to settle two charges. The first involve allegations the company paid illegal kickbacks to boost sales, the second that they used charitable foundations to help cover the cost of Medicare co-payments for the medications. The Department of Justice (DOJ) contends both acts were in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA).
Two lessons for medical professionals from this case include:
- Constant vigilance. The government has not eased off on its investigation and prosecution of FCA violations. Those who find themselves in the midst of an investigation are wise to seek legal counsel to protect their interests throughout the process.
- Think twice before accepting a benefit. The government will closely review benefits like payment for a speaking fee or a dinner invitation to discuss a new product.
As outlined with this case, a failure to take accusations of a violation seriously can result in serious penalties. Those who face such accusations are wise to seek counsel to build a defense against the government’s accusations.