OIG Issues Advisory Opinion to Specialty Pharmacy for Support Service Payments

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

There is an inherent risk in entering into financial arrangements where payments to a service provider are only made when a referral is generated. On August 15, 2014, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) made this perfectly clear in an unfavorable advisory opinion issued to a specialty pharmacy that wanted to pay local retail pharmacies for providing support services to it.

Background of Request for OIG Advisory Opinion.

According to the OIG, the requestor, a specialty pharmacy, dispenses specialty pharmaceuticals used to treat a variety of chronic and life-threatening illnesses. The specialty pharmacy stated that the drugs offered at its establishment are frequently unavailable to retail pharmacies. In light of this, the specialty pharmacy asked whether it would be permissible to enter into agreements with various local pharmacies in which the specialty pharmacy would provide its specialty drug prescriptions to local pharmacies’ patients. Under the proposed contractual arrangement, the local pharmacies would be required to provide various support services, including:

1. Accepting the prescription from the patient or prescriber;
2. Gathering patient and prescriber demographic information;
3. Recording patient-specific history and use, including drug names, strength and directions;
4. Patient counseling;
5. Informing the patients about access to specialty drugs, including the availability from pharmacies other than the specialty pharmacy;
6. Obtaining patient consent to forward the prescription to the specialty pharmacy;
7. Transferring prescription information to the specialty pharmacy; and
8. Providing ongoing patient assessments for subsequent refills.

The retail pharmacies would be paid a “per-fill fee” by the specialty pharmacy at the time that the initial prescription was transmitted and upon each subsequent refill.

OIG Issued Negative Opinion Due to Anti-Kickback Statute.

The OIG issued an unfavorable opinion for this proposed agreement, concluding that the federal Anti-Kickback Statute was implicated because the specialty pharmacy would pay a per-fill fee for support services each time a local pharmacy referred a specialty drug prescription. After evaluating the arrangement, the OIG concluded that the per-fill fees were inherently subject to abuse because they were paid only when the support services provided by the retail pharmacy resulted in a referral to the specialty pharmacy. Thus, the OIG found that such a per-fill fee is directly linked to business generated by the local pharmacy for the specialty pharmacy, and could influence the local pharmacy’s referral decisions. OIG noted that the Anti-Kickback Statute is implicated if one purpose of the remuneration is to generate referrals.

Click here to read OIG Advisory Opinion No. 14-06.

Exceptions to Anti-Kickback Laws.

Like many other regulatory frameworks, the Anti-Kickback Statute has exceptions. The law provides a number of safe harbors to the rule which allow otherwise impermissible referral arrangements to pass muster.

Because the exceptions are numerous and often subject to change, it is highly recommended that any new business arrangement, or substantial change to an existing one, is reviewed by a health law attorney experienced in the area of Anti-Referral and Anti-Kickback Laws.

Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.

We routinely provide deposition coverage to pharmacists, pharmacies and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals.

We can review business referral arrangements and provide legal counsel on whether they are not in violation of federal and state anti-referral laws.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “OIG Advisory Opinion No. 14-06” (August 15, 2014). From: https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/docs/advisoryopinions/2014/AdvOpn14-06.pdf

Ciesla, Frank, Christian, Beth, and Burd, Ari. “Office of Inspector General (OIG) Issues Unfavorable Advisory Opinion to Specialty Pharmacy for Support Service Payments.” The National Law Review. (August 18, 2014). From: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/office-inspector-general-oig-issues-unfavorable-advisory-opinion-to-specialty-pharma

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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Feds File Two Lawsuits Against Novartis for Allegedly Giving Kickback to Pharmacists and Physicians

11 Indest-2008-8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (NPC) is currently fielding two different lawsuits, filed just days apart from each other, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The first lawsuit was filed on April 23, 2013, alleging the company gave illegal kickbacks to pharmacists. A second lawsuit was filed on April 26, 2013, alleging illegal kickbacks were paid by NPC to health care providers. According to the DOJ, the government’s complaint seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act, and under the common law for paying kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe NPC products that were reimbursed by federal health care programs.

Click here to read the entire press release from the DOJ.

Doctors and Pharmacists Allegedly Paid to Prescribe.

Both lawsuits allege NPC violated the Anti-Kickback Statute. In the April 23, 2013, complaint against NPC the lawsuit alleges the company gave kickbacks, in the form of rebates and discounts to pharmacies in exchange for the pharmacies’ cooperation in switching patients from competitors’ drugs to NPC products.

The April 26, 2013, lawsuit accuses NPC of paying doctors to speak about certain drugs at events that were allegedly social occasions. Many of the programs were allegedly held in circumstances in which it would be impossible to have a presentation. According to the DOJ, this included fishing trips off the Florida coast and meetings in Hooters restaurants. NPC is also accused of treating health care professionals to expensive dinners. The payments and dinners were apparently kickbacks to the doctors for writing prescriptions for NPC drugs.

Doctors in the Sunshine State Allegedly Involved.

The lawsuit alleges at least six Florida doctors of participating in the bogus conferences and taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The doctors are not named or charged in the civil lawsuit.

To read the allegations listed in the lawsuit against Florida doctors, click here for the Tampa Bay Times article.

Novartis Claims Discounts and Physician Speaker Programs Were Legitimate.

In a press release, NPC disputes all of the government’s allegations. The pharmaceutical company states that discounts and rebates by pharmaceutical companies are a customary and legal procedure, as recognized by the government. It also addresses the physician speaker programs by saying the programs are also acceptable practices designed to inform physicians about the uses of different types of medicines. Click here to read the entire press release from NPC.

Kickbacks and The Law.

For years drug companies have paid doctors to speak about new drugs at educational conferences with other health care professionals. The practice is legal, but considered questionable.

Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, it’s a felony for health care professionals to accept bribes in exchange for recommending a drug or service covered by Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE or the Department of Veterans Affairs health care program.

Whistleblower or Qui Tam Lawsuits Can Results in a Big Pay Day.

The original complaint against NPC was allegedly filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by a former sales representative.

Individuals working in the health care industry, whether for hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, medical groups, home health agencies or others, often become aware of questionable activities.  Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government.

In a two-part blog series on whistleblower/qui tam lawsuits I explain types of false claims, the reward programs for coming forward with a false claim, who can file a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit, and more. Click here to read the first part of this blog, and click here for the second part.

The Health Law Firm Lawyers are Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent plaintiffs, patients, health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sound Off.

Have you head about these two lawsuits? What are your thoughts? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Masow, Julie. “Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation Disputes Allegations in Two US Government Lawsuits and Looks Forward to a Fair Discussion of the Facts.” Novartis Pharmaceuticals. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/newsroom/pressreleases/137176.shtml

Davis, Brittany Alana. “Lawsuit: Pharmaceutical Company Gave Kickbacks to Florida Doctors.” Tampa Bay Times. (May 3, 2013). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/lawsuit-pharmaceutical-company-gave-kickbacks-to-florida-doctors/2119133

Department of Justice. “United States Files Complaint Against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for Allegedly Paying Kickbacks to Doctors in Exchange for Prescribing Its Drugs.” Department of Justice. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/April/13-civ-481.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.