The United States has filed a civil False Claims Act complaint against Omnicare Inc. alleging that it solicited and received millions of dollars in kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturer Abbott Laboratories, the Justice Department announced today. Omnicare is the nation’s largest provider of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy consulting services to nursing homes. Federal regulations designed to protect nursing home residents from unnecessary drugs require nursing homes to retain consulting pharmacists such as those provided by Omnicare to ensure that residents’ drug prescriptions are appropriate.
In its complaint, the United States alleges that Omnicare solicited and received kickbacks from Abbott in exchange for purchasing and recommending the prescription drug Depakote for controlling behavioral disturbances exhibited by dementia patients residing in nursing homes serviced by Omnicare. According to the complaint, Omnicare’s pharmacists reviewed nursing home patients’ charts at least monthly and made recommendations to physicians on what drugs should be prescribed for those patients. The government alleges that Omnicare touted its influence over physicians in nursing homes in order to secure kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies such as Abbott.
“Elderly nursing home residents suffering from dementia are among our nation’s most vulnerable patient populations, and they depend on the independent judgment of healthcare professionals for their daily care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Kickbacks to consulting pharmacists compromise their independence and undermine their role in protecting nursing home residents from the use of unnecessary drugs.”
The United States alleges that Omnicare disguised the kickbacks it received from Abbott in a variety of ways. Abbott allegedly made payments to Omnicare described as “grants” and “educational funding,” even though their true purpose was to induce Omnicare to recommend Depakote. For example, according to the complaint, Omnicare solicited substantial contributions from Abbott and other pharmaceutical manufacturers to its “Re*View” program. Although Omnicare claimed that Re*View was a “health management” and “educational” program, the complaint alleges that it was simply a means by which Omnicare solicited kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturers in exchange for increasing the utilization of their drugs on elderly nursing home residents. In internal documents, Omnicare allegedly referred to Re*View as its “one extra script per patient” program. The complaint also alleges that Omnicare entered into agreements with Abbott by which Omnicare was entitled to increasing levels of rebates from Abbott based on the number of nursing home residents serviced and the amount of Depakote prescribed per resident. Finally, the complaint alleges that Abbott funded Omnicare management meetings on Amelia Island, Florida, offered tickets to sporting events to Omnicare management, and made other payments to local Omnicare pharmacies.
“Although the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia is small, we will not waver in our pursuit of the largest corporations, like Omnicare and Abbott, who illegally raid the coffers of Medicaid, Medicare, and other healthcare benefit programs,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Giorno for the Western District of Virginia.
“Kickback allegations place elderly nursing home residents at risk that treatment decisions are influenced by improper financial incentives,” said Special Agent in Charge Nicholas DiGiulio for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) region including Virginia. “We will continually guard government health programs and taxpayers from companies more intent on their bottom lines than on patient care.”
In May 2012, the United States, numerous individual states, and Abbott entered into a $1.5 billion global civil and criminal resolution that, among other things, resolved Abbott’s civil liability under the False Claims Act for paying kickbacks to nursing home pharmacies.
The United States filed its complaint against Omnicare in two consolidated whistleblower lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act in the Western District of Virginia. The whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act authorize private parties to sue for fraud on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The United States is entitled to intervene and take over such lawsuits, as it has done here.
This case illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $23.2 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $14.9 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
This investigation was jointly handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, HHS-OIG, the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
The cases are captioned United States ex rel. Spetter v. Abbott Labs., et al., Case No. 10-cv-00006 (W.D. Va.) and United States ex rel. McCoyd v. Abbott Labs., et al., Case No. 07-cv-00081 (W.D. Va.). The claims asserted in the government’s complaint are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.