Advertisement
  1. News

Lawsuit: Pharmaceutical company gave kickbacks to Florida doctors

Published May 4, 2013

The U.S. Attorney's Office has filed a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company accusing at least six Florida doctors of participating in phony conferences and taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

The Tallahassee doctors — who are not charged and are not named in the civil lawsuit — are among dozens implicated in an alleged national scheme by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. to encourage doctors to prescribe certain brand-name drugs to treat diabetes, hypertension and other maladies.

The suit accuses doctors of teaching or attending several conferences that were little more than extravagant social events, including lavish dinners and fishing trips off the coasts of Florida and Alaska.

Florida and 27 other states are party to the suit, which also accuses the doctors of bilking Medicaid — the state-run health insurance for the poor — by overprescribing Novartis drugs.

Drug companies for years have paid doctors to speak about new drugs at educational meetings with other doctors, a practice that is legal though widely viewed as questionable.

Novartis, in some cases, didn't even pretend to give educational information, the suit alleges.

"Novartis held thousands of speaker programs all over the country at which few or no slides were shown and the doctors who participated spent little or no time discussing the drug at issue," the suit states. "Instead, Novartis simply wined and dined the doctors at high-end restaurants with astronomical costs, as well as in sports bars, on fishing trips, and at other venues not conducive to an educational program."

Many of the conferences were held at the Hooters restaurant chain.

Novartis, a New Jersey company, denies the lawsuit's claims.

"Physician-speaker programs are an accepted practice designed to inform physicians about an appropriate use of medicines," states a media release from the company.

Among other allegations in the suit:

• Novartis paid one Tallahassee doctor between $50,000 and $75,000 for speeches he mostly did not give between 2003 and 2011.

• Novartis paid another doctor $3,750 for giving the same speech five times in a nine-month period, with the same four doctors attending each time.

• The doctors repeatedly took turns in the role of speaker and student, attending programs of the same topic they had spoken about. Overall, Novartis' data show the same six Tallahassee doctors attended the same program 23 times in six months.

"Education was a very small part of the (events)," the suit states. "The doctors talked mostly about other things."

The federal anti-kickback law makes it a felony for doctors to accept bribes in exchange for recommending a drug or service covered by Medicare or Medi­caid.

The federal government has previously sued Novartis under the law.

As part of the 2010 settlement, the company promised to straighten up.

The new suit states Novartis continued to host suspicious conferences that seemed to result in attendees billing Medicare and Medicaid for high amounts of Novartis drugs — such as Lotrel and Valturna — which treat cardiovascular problems.

Lee Lasris, attorney for the Florida Health Law Center, said Florida and other states likely signed on to the suit to try to recover money lost from Medicaid, which is partially paid for by the state.

Florida also bans pharmaceutical kickbacks, he added, although these cases often play out entirely at the federal level.

"In some cases, maybe the patient needed the drug. Maybe it was borderline and an exercise routine would have worked just as well," Lasris said.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard Travlos' houseboat in 2013, takes the stand in his own defense Tuesday. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of killing two aboard a houseboat in 2013, told a different version of the same story his girlfriend told. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    One of the messages included a picture of a pellet gun, Tampa police said.
  3. The lobby bar at the Current Hotel on Rocky Point in Tampa serves eclectic cocktails and locally brewed coffee. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Take a look inside Tampa Bay’s newest boutique hotel.
  4. Adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize Tuesday, joining thousands of other adjuncts across Florida who are fighting for better working conditions and pay. [Times]
    The employees are the seventh group in Florida to join Service Employees International Union in recent yeas as it pushes for investment in the state’s higher education institutions.
  5. A pauper's cemetery was established at the northeast corner of property now occupied by King High School in Tampa, location of the school gymnasium (tall building at top left) and the main parking lot. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Conflicting versions emerge of where Ridgewood Cemetery was located. One thing is certain: It was ignored or forgotten.
  6. The University of South Florida ranked ahead of UCF, FIU and FAU in the U.S. News & World Report's Global University Rankings. [USF handout]
    The University of Florida finished 105th, while USF came in at 310. Harvard led the world.
  7. An anti-government protester raises his hands during clashes with police in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The government said Tuesday that 15 people have died in five days of rioting, arson and violent clashes that were sparked by a hike in subway fares and have almost paralyzed the country. RODRIGO ABD  |  AP
    Riot police used tear gas and streams of water to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several streets of Santiago on Tuesday.
  8. The Florida Bar wants the state’s highest court to immediately suspend the law license of Tampa attorney Jose Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo. FACEBOOK PAGE  |  Su Abogado Hispano
    José Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo, abandoned his law practice, according to the petition from the Florida Bar.
  9. West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Molly Anderson said during a news conference on Tuesday that Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Rudelmiro Santizo Perez on Monday in Houston as he tried to flee to Guatemala. West Palm Beach Police Department/Facebook
    Police began investigating on Oct. 3 when a hidden camera was found inside an employee bathroom at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
  10. This Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, photo shows the graded dirt surface where sod will be placed in November inside what will be the stadium for David Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS soccer team that opens its inaugural season in 2020 at the site of the former Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. TIM REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team’s first home match that’s likely to come in March.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement