BOSTON – Danvers-based Abiomed, Inc. has agreed to pay $3.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by purchasing lavish meals for physicians in order to induce them to use Abiomed’s Impella line of heart pumps.
The United States contends that Abiomed sought to induce physicians to use its pumps, which cost more than $20,000 each, by buying meals for them at some of the country’s most expensive restaurants, including Menton in Boston, Nobu in Los Angeles, Spago in Beverly Hills, and Eleven Madison Park in New York City. The government further contends that Abiomed (1) paid for physicians’ meals in instances where attendees ordered alcohol in an amount inconsistent with legitimate scientific discussion; (2) paid for meals at expensive restaurants where employees invited spouses of physicians to attend (and those spouses did attend) even though the spouses had no legitimate business purpose for attending the meal; (3) paid for numerous meals for physicians in which the cost per-attendee well exceeded Abiomed’s own $150 per person guideline (in one instance exceeding $450 per-attendee); and (4) paid for meals for physicians in which their employees misrepresented the number of attendees, listed attendees with generic names (e.g., Mike Anesthesia), or listed fictitious names of individuals who did not attend the meal, which had the effect of making the true per-attendee cost appear lower. Abiomed managers approved the expenses for all of these meals.
“We expect today’s settlement with Abiomed to serve as a warning to medical device manufacturers who try to improperly influence the treatment decisions of physicians,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Providing doctors with lavish meals, or meals that focus on entertainment rather than education or science, can impair a physician’s independent medical judgment – something each and every patient is entitled to. My office will continue to investigate sales practices that interfere with that independent medical judgment and that heighten the risk of improper use of limited federal healthcare dollars.”
“The FBI will continue to target medical device manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies who attempt to influence the medical decisions of health care providers whether through expensive meals or other improper arrangements,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Boston Division. “This settlement reaffirms the efforts of the FBI and its partners, who remain committed to rooting out companies whose sales practices can interfere with the medical judgment of physicians.”
“Health care companies seeking to boost profits by wining and dining physicians must be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip Coyne with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Lavish dinners can undermine impartial medical decision-making of physicians, drive up health care costs, and reduce the public’s trust in federal government health plans.”
The settlement announced today stems from a complaint filed by a former Abiomed employee under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which authorizes private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and to receive a portion of any recovery. See United States ex rel. Bennett v. Abiomed, Inc., No. 13cv12277-IT. The whistleblower will receive $542,500 of the settlement.
The investigation was handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. The matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick M. Callahan of Lelling’s Healthcare Fraud Unit and Abraham R. George of Lelling’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Unit.