Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay the United States $5.475 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to induce doctors to implant the company’s carotid, biliary and peripheral vascular products, the Justice Department announced today. Abbott is a global pharmaceuticals and health care products company based in Abbott Park, Ill.
“Patients have a right to treatment decisions that are based on their own medical needs, not the personal financial interests of their health care providers,” said Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “Kickbacks undermine the ability of health care providers to objectively evaluate and treat their patients, and will continue to be a primary focus of the Department’s health care enforcement efforts.”
The settlement resolves allegations that Abbott knowingly paid prominent physicians for teaching assignments, speaking engagements and conferences with the expectation that these physicians would arrange for the hospitals with which they were affiliated to purchase Abbott’s carotid, biliary and peripheral vascular products. As a result, the United States alleged Abbott violated the Anti-Kickback Act and caused the submission of false claims to Medicare for the procedures in which these Abbott products were used.
“Physicians should make decisions regarding medical devices based on what is in the best interest of patients without being induced by payments from manufacturers competing for their business,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee.
“Offering financial inducements can distort health care decision-making,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “OIG and our law enforcement partners vigilantly protect government health programs from such alleged abuses.”
Carotid and peripheral vascular products are used to treat circulatory disorders by increasing blood flow to the head and various parts of the body, respectively. Biliary products are used to treat obstructions that occur in the bile ducts.
The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by Steven Peters and Douglas Gray, former Abbott employees, under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act , which allows whistleblowers to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery As part of today’s resolution, Peters and Gray will receive a total payment of more than $1 million.
This settlement 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 Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 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 $17 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $12.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
This settlement was the result of an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the Northern District of California and the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The lawsuit is captioned United States ex rel. Peters et al. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:09-CV-430 (E.D. Tenn.). The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.