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Drug-testing company to pay $16.3 million to settle kickback claims

The Ameritox drug-testing company will pay $16.3 million to settle a false-claims lawsuit contending that it paid kickbacks to doctors to win their business, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Of that, $3.4 million will go to the original whistle-blower in the case, former Ameritox senior sales representative Debra Maul of Belleair Beach.

Maul, 56, tried to bring the improper practices to light when she worked at Ameritox in 2005 and 2006, but "they didn't embrace her complaints in any regard," said her attorney, David Linesch of Palm Harbor.

Maul, who was traveling for business and could not be reached for comment Tuesday, filed the whistle-blower suit in U.S. District Court in Tampa in 2007 after leaving Ameritox.

"She just believes in doing it the right way and couldn't work at a place that didn't," Linesch said. She now is a vice president for sales at another lab company.

The federal False Claims Act permits private citizens who know about fraud against the government to bring lawsuits on behalf of the public and share in any money recovered by officials.

Ameritox is a laboratory based in Midland, Texas, that markets drug-testing services to doctors who prescribe powerful narcotics for their patients, many of whom are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, according to court records. The company's test measures the levels of medications in patients, helping doctors determine whether they are taking the drugs as prescribed.

Prosecutors said Ameritox faced allegations that it made cash payments to doctors to win their Medicare business.

In a statement, the company said the money was for administrative work "related to specimen processing for Ameritox's specialized testing." The company said it voluntarily stopped that program in 2005, before the federal investigation.

The federal government will receive nearly $15.5 million of the settlement. Maul's portion comes out of the federal share. Florida, Texas and Massachusetts will split $814,000.

Ameritox said it settled the suit so it could focus on the "pain medication monitoring needs of its customers" and help them achieve optimal patient outcomes.

The company does business with 10,000 doctors and 2 million patients in 48 states. It said the settlement will have "no impact on Ameritox's commitment to customers or any of the services it currently provides."

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Drug-testing company to pay $16.3 million to settle kickback claims 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 9:09pm]
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