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Tampa doctor must pay $1.5 million for part in ‘Pain Hustlers’ scheme

Pain management doctor Edward Lubin agrees settlement with Department of Justice for false Medicare claims.
 
Chris Evans, left, Andy Garcia, center, and Emily Blunt starred in "Pain Hustlers," a movie based on the story of Insys Therapeutics, whose CEO and president, John Kapoor, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison for racketeering charges in 2020. Tampa pain management doctor Edward Lubin was one of those who participated in the scheme, according to a Department of Justice news release.
Chris Evans, left, Andy Garcia, center, and Emily Blunt starred in "Pain Hustlers," a movie based on the story of Insys Therapeutics, whose CEO and president, John Kapoor, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison for racketeering charges in 2020. Tampa pain management doctor Edward Lubin was one of those who participated in the scheme, according to a Department of Justice news release. [ BRIAN DOUGLAS | AP ]
Published Dec. 5, 2023|Updated Dec. 6, 2023

TAMPA — A new Netflix movie starring Emily Blunt and Chris Evans shows how an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company persuaded doctors to prescribe a fentanyl-based painkiller by giving them kickback payments disguised as speaking fees.

The movie, Pain Hustlers, is based on the story of Insys Therapeutics, whose CEO and president, John Kapoor, was sentenced to 5½ years in prison for racketeering charges in 2020.

Tampa pain management doctor Edward Lubin was one of those who participated in the scheme, according to a Department of Justice news release.

In exchange for prescribing Subsys, a fentanyl mouth spray, Lubin received roughly $160,000 in kickbacks from the pharmaceutical manufacturer, according to the release. The payments were disguised as fees for speaking at sham informational events that lasted a few minutes, never occurred or were merely repeating the same information to the same attendees. It was a model that Insys repeated across much of the country to boost sales.

Lubin recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve allegations that he submitted claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary Subsys prescriptions written in exchange for kickback payments.

“The United States will not be thwarted in its efforts to hold doctors like Dr. Lubin accountable for issuing medically unnecessary prescriptions tainted by kickbacks,” Roger B. Handberg, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said in the statement. “We thank our skilled law enforcement partners for their determined efforts to investigate this important case and to make Dr. Lubin face responsibility for his unlawful actions.”

Under the terms of the agreement, there is no admission of guilt by Lubin nor determination of liability by federal prosecutors.

Lubin did not respond to multiple requests for comment in emails and phone calls left with Florida Pain Relief Centers and Medical Village Surgical, where he is listed as a pain management physician. Three messages seeking comment from Lakeland attorney Robert Aranda, who represented Lubin in the settlement agreement, were not returned.

Tampa pain management physician Edward Lubin recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve allegations he violated the False Claims Act by causing the submission of claims for fentanyl prescriptions written in exchange for kickback payments.
Tampa pain management physician Edward Lubin recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve allegations he violated the False Claims Act by causing the submission of claims for fentanyl prescriptions written in exchange for kickback payments. [ Linkedin.com ]

Subsys was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to provide pain relief to cancer patients. But its manufacturer used the kickback scheme to incentivize doctors to prescribe it for other ailments.

The settlement with Lubin resolves a 2018 civil claim federal prosecutors filed against Lubin alleging multiple violations of the False Claims Act and the federal anti-kickback law.

It states that between 2013 and 2016, when Lubin was practicing at the Gessler Clinic Professional Association in Winter Haven, he was responsible for more than 400 false claims for Subsys totaling in excess of $4 million to be submitted to Medicare and TRICARE, a government health insurance program for veterans.

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Lubin signed a contract to speak at events promoting Subsys, the complaint said. He was paid between $1,600 and $3,700 per event. During this period, he wrote over 500 prescriptions for Subsys.

Lubin filed for bankruptcy in July, according to court records. A federal judge agreed with U.S. Attorney’s Office lawyers who argued that protection against litigation provided by bankruptcy does not apply against the government’s regulatory power.

The agreement gives Lubin until Oct. 2027 to pay the full amount of restitution but requires him to make a first payment of $187,500 by the end of this year. The settlement must still be approved by the bankruptcy court.

In a 2019 criminal prosecution filed in Massachusetts, Insys pled guilty to five counts of mail fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud patients and insurers, including Medicare, according to the Department of Justice. The company admitted that bribes paid through its speaker program were used to induce physicians to prescribe increasing amounts of medically unnecessary Subsys.

In addition to the company, at least 15 doctors, seven former Insys executives and seven former Insys sales representatives have been criminally convicted for their roles in the sham speaker program.