Sanofi US Agrees to Pay $109 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations of Free Product Kickbacks to Physicians
Sanofi-Aventis U.S. Inc. and Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC, subsidiaries of international drug manufacturer Sanofi (collectively, Sanofi US), have agreed to pay $109 million to resolve allegations that Sanofi US violated the False Claims Act by giving physicians free units of Hyalgan, a knee injection, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, to induce them to purchase and prescribe the product. The settlement also resolves allegations that Sanofi US submitted false average sales price (ASP) reports for Hyalgan that failed to account for free units distributed contingent on Hyalgan purchases. The government alleges that the false ASP reports, which were used to set reimbursement rates, caused government programs to pay inflated amounts for Hyalgan and a competing product.
The United States contends that, facing pressure from a lower-priced competitor, Sanofi US provided its sales representatives with thousands of free “sample” Hyalgan units and trained its sales representatives to market the “value add” of these units to physicians. In practice, the United States alleges, Sanofi US sales representatives often entered into illegal sampling arrangements with physicians, using the free units as kickbacks and promising to provide negotiated numbers of them in order to lower Hyalgan’s effective price. The government contends that there were numerous such arrangements, including:
- A Southern California-based Sanofi US sales representative who allegedly provided 25 Hyalgan samples to a physician practice for every 100 Hyalgan units purchased, and who supplemented these kickbacks by regularly treating the entire practice to lavish dinners at Sanofi US’s expense and with Sanofi US’s approval.
- A New York-based Sanofi US sales representative who allegedly provided 12 Hyalgan samples to a physician practice for every 50 Hyalgan units purchased, and whose manager supplemented these kickbacks by treating the practice, along with friends and family members, to a lavish dinner in Manhattan at Sanofi US’s expense and with Sanofi US’s approval.
- A Central Texas-based Sanofi US sales representative who allegedly promised a physician practice 125 free Hyalgan syringes in exchange for a purchase of 500 Hyalgan units and was lauded by Sanofi US’s Texas sales team for “[u]tiliz[ing] samples to provide value for the office.”
The United States contends that price was important to physicians because Hyalgan and its direct competitor were reimbursed at the same, fixed rate by Medicare and other insurers. Thus, the less expensive option afforded a greater reimbursement “spread,” or profit, to physicians’ practices. According to the government’s allegations, Sanofi US chose not to compete by lowering the actual invoiced price of Hyalgan, for fear of setting off a price war with its competitor that would lead to a “downward spiral” in prices and reimbursements. Instead, the government alleges, Sanofi US surreptitiously lowered the effective price of Hyalgan by promising the free units to doctors who agreed to purchase the product. The government alleges that Medicare and other federal health care programs paid millions of dollars in kickback-tainted claims for Hyalgan.
“Kickback schemes subvert the health care marketplace and undermine the integrity of public health care programs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart Delery. “We will continue to hold accountable those who we allege are providing illegal incentives to influence the decision making of health care providers in federal health care programs.”
“The government’s allegations describe a situation where a drug manufacturer used valuable free units of a drug to subvert Medicare’s drug reimbursement system for physicians,” said Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. “This is not the first time that this Office has brought action against a manufacturer who engaged in such an illegal scheme, and the government will remain vigilant in policing such conduct.”
“Patients expect their health providers to be concerned solely with their best medical interests” said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health. “Kickbacks undermine that all-important patient trust, and taxpayers’ expectation that government health dollars be put only to the wisest of uses.”
Today’s settlement with the France-based pharmaceutical manufacturer resolves a lawsuit filed by former sales representative Mark Giddarie under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. Giddarie will receive $18.5 million as his share of the government’s recovery.
This settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Department of Justice, Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts; the FBI; and the Offices of the Inspectors General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Office of Personnel Management.
This resolution is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and another step for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009. 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 that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover $10.1 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $13.9 billion.
This case is docketed as United States ex rel. Giddarie v. sanofi-aventis U.S., Inc., No. 10-CV-10070 (D. Mass.).