BIRMINGHAM – The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday charged two sales representatives for a Haleyville, Ala.,-based compounding pharmacy for participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.
Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey, FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge David W. Archey, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge, Houston Division, Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the charges as part of a nationwide Department of Justice Health Care Fraud Takedown.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., earlier today announced the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving about $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, more than 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s nationwide arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
In the Northern District of Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed separate informations charging KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa, and BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud. McCune’s information also charges her with conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program, and with money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. Both women face various counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.
In conjunction with the charges, prosecutors also filed plea agreements with Norris and McCune.
“In this case, a pharmacy used a marketing scheme that increased sales of expensive medications without regard for patient need or medical necessity,” Posey said. “Schemes like this defraud Medicare and other health insurance systems by pushing unnecessary medications and driving up the costs of health care.”
Norris and McCune both worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.
Global hired sales representatives, including Norris and McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.
The court documents describe a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. Each of the plea agreements describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, Norris and McCune obtained those prescriptions for themselves and their dependents.
When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.
As part of their plea agreements, Norris and McCune agree to forfeit money to the government as proceeds of illegal activity. Norris agrees to forfeit $287,698 and McCune $401,628.
Global paid the defendants a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that they obtained, according to court documents.
Norris worked out of Tuscaloosa as a sales representative for Global’s Alabama region from August 2014 to July 2016. She was closely related to an Alabama physician. That relative and a second physician, described in her plea agreement as a family friend, wrote a significant number of the prescriptions Norris obtained for Global to fill.
McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement. “The overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature, her plea agreement states.
The charges against Norris and McCune follow charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.
Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.
FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.