Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the AstraZeneca Settlement Announcement
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Over the past 15 months, Secretary Sebelius and I have made it a top priority of both our Departments to crack down on health care fraud, which we know costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Through our Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, or HEAT, we have brought the full resources of the federal government to bear against individuals and corporations who illegally divert taxpayer resources for their own gain.

Today, we are here to announce the latest results of that effort. The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has agreed to pay $520 million to federal and state taxpayers to settle claims that it illegally marketed the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel for uses that were not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration. As part of this scheme, AstraZeneca was accused of illegally promoting Seroquel to physicians and violating the federal Anti-Kickback statute, all in furtherance of supporting the drug’s use for a host of illnesses for which it was never approved.

According to the settlement, AstraZeneca’s illegal marketing of the drug led to millions of dollars in false claims against federal and state programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

These were not victimless crimes – illegal acts by pharmaceutical companies and false claims against Medicare and Medicaid can put the public health at risk, corrupt medical decisions by health care providers, and take billions of dollars directly out of taxpayers’ pockets.

As we have said, we will not let such actions stand. This Administration is committed to recovering taxpayer money lost to health care fraud, whether it’s by bringing cases against common criminals operating out of vacant storefronts or executives at some of the nation’s biggest companies.

The settlement we are announcing today is a major accomplishment in that effort. It is the largest amount ever paid by a company in a civil only settlement of off-label marketing claims. The federal government will receive $302 million, and states will share up to $218 million.

Over the past 15 months, we have recouped more than $2.8 billion in health care fraud cases through use of the False Claims Act, money that will be fed back into federal coffers. In 2009, the Justice Department also reached an all-time high in the number of health care fraud defendants charged, with more than 800 indictments and more than 580 convictions. Our Strike Forces now operate in seven cities and we plan to expand to more this year.

These are major success stories with our partners at HHS, but we know that we must not rest – and we will not. As long as health care fraud pays, and as long as it goes unpunished, our health care system will remain under siege, with tremendous costs to the quality of health care provided in this country and to the nation’s fiscal health. As Secretary Sebelius and I both said when we launched HEAT in May 2009, you should expect to hear from us again on this subject. The American people expect results, and we are committed to delivering them.

Before I turn it over to Secretary Sebelius, I’d like to thank the Civil Division for its hard work on this case and its anti-fraud efforts across all sectors. Over the past 15 months, the Civil Division in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation has recovered more than $5.7 billion in civil recoveries and criminal fines by uncovering fraud in a range of areas. I’d also like to thank U.S. Attorney Michael Levy of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and his great office for their fine work on this case.

And of course, I would like to thank our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, who have made invaluable contributions to this effort. I’ll now turn it over to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.