Former Pharma Company Manager Pleads Guilty to Criminal HIPAA Violation
BOSTON – A former district manager for pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott pleaded guilty today in connection with wrongfully accessing patients’ protected personal health information.
Landon Eckles, 30, of Huntersville, N.C., pleaded guilty to wrongful disclosure of identifiable health information, in violation of the criminal provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr., scheduled sentencing for March 15, 2016. Eckles was charged in an Information in October 2015.
From 2007 to 2012, Eckles worked for Warner Chilcott and served as a district manager in the company’s osteoporosis division in a mid-Atlantic district. Atelvia® had poor insurance coverage in Eckles’s district when it was launched in 2011, and many insurance companies required a prior authorization before covering Atelvia®. A prior authorization contains protected health information, including biographical data and information concerning a patient’s medical condition. Certain insurance companies require prior authorizations signed by a patient’s doctor in order to overcome restrictions that favor less expensive prescription drugs. Eckles directed certain sales representatives that, if physicians refused to fill out Atelvia® prior authorizations, the sales representatives should fill them out themselves. Several of Eckles’s sales representatives, and Eckles himself, filled out Atelvia® prior authorizations, and by doing so, accessed patients’ protected health information in violation of the HIPAA law and regulations that safeguard the privacy of confidential health records.
In addition, Eckles and a sales representative accessed a number of patients’ medical charts and placed Atelvia® brochures in the charts so that physicians would be reminded to prescribe it. Eckles bragged about this tactic to his sales representatives, stating, “I guarantee you that this is going to drive business,” and encouraged his sales representatives to follow suit. In part, as a result of his scheme, Eckles received a bonus of approximately $60,000 in 2011.
The charging statute provides a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 and exclusion from the Medicare program. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Eckles is the fifth individual charged in connection with the Warner Chilcott investigation. In October 2015, Warner Chilcott agreed to plead guilty to health care fraud and pay $125 million to resolve a joint criminal and civil investigation. In addition, the former President of Warner Chilcott, Carl Reichel, was indicted for conspiracy to pay kickbacks. Two other former district managers, Jeff Podolsky and Timothy Garcia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Rita Luthra, a Springfield, Mass. physician, was indicted for accepting kickbacks, violating the criminal provisions of HIPAA and obstructing justice.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Antoinette V. Henry, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Schumacher and Miranda Hooker of Ortiz’s Health Care Fraud Unit.