As many health lawyers know, the government usually only pursues the person or entity that offers or pays allegedly improper remuneration, even though the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) also applies to those to solicit or receive it. This uneven enforcement pattern occurs for a variety of reasons — the alleged payor is the focus of the relator’s complaint and resulting investigation, the amount of time that this investigation and resolution takes can create practical and legal problems in pursuing additional defendants, and the increasing number of qui tam cases stretches the government’s limited resources.
However, on October 7, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement with an alleged kickback recipient over three years after it settled with the alleged payor. PharMerica Corporation, identified by the DOJ as the nation’s second-largest provider of pharmaceutical services to long-term care facilities, agreed to pay $9.25 million to settle allegations that, from 2001 to 2008, the company knowingly solicited and received kickbacks from Abbott Laboratories in the form of rebates, educational grants and other financial support in exchange for recommending that physicians prescribe Abbott’s anti-epileptic drug Depakote to nursing home patients where PharMerica provided pharmacy services.
PharMerica noted in a press release that it denied the government’s allegations and fully cooperated with the DOJ throughout the investigation. Of note, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) did not require an amendment to PharMerica’s current corporate integrity agreement to add provisions concerning AKS compliance as part of this resolution.
This settlement comes over three years after Abbott entered into an FCA settlement agreement with the DOJ and several individual states in May 2012, which, along with addressing separate allegations related to the promotion of Depakote, settled allegations related to its arrangement with PharMerica. Abbott also did not admit to any wrongdoing in its settlement. Both the PharMerica and Abbott settlements are the product of lawsuits filed in federal court in the Western District of Virginia under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act.
The pursuit of the settlement with PharMerica may indicate a growing interest by DOJ in pursuing AKS allegations against both the alleged offeror and the alleged recipient of prohibited remuneration under the FCA.