Amgen Inc., a California-based biotechnology company, has agreed to pay the United States $24.9 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act. Amgen develops, manufactures, and sells pharmaceutical products, including products sold under the trade name Aranesp.
The settlement resolves allegations that Amgen paid kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers Omnicare Inc., PharMerica Corporation and Kindred Healthcare Inc. in return for implementing “therapeutic interchange” programs that were designed to switch Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from a competitor drug to Aranesp. The government alleged that the kickbacks took the form of performance-based rebates that were tied to market-share or volume thresholds. The government further alleged that, as part of the therapeutic interchange program, Amgen distributed materials to consultant pharmacists and nursing home staff encouraging the use of Aranesp for patients who did not have anemia associated with chronic renal failure.
“We will continue to pursue pharmaceutical companies that pay kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers to influence drug prescribing decisions,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Patients in skilled nursing facilities deserve care that is free of improper financial influences.”
“By this agreement we are making important strides in holding drug manufacturers accountable for fraudulent and abusive practices not only in South Carolina but nationwide,” said William Nettles, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “I am proud of the tireless work of this office to investigate this case across the country.”
This civil settlement resolves a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provision of the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens with knowledge of false claims to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The False Claims Act suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, and is captioned United States ex rel. Kurnik v. Amgen Inc., et al.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Delery noted that the settlement with Amgen, Inc. was the result of a coordinated effort among the Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
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 more than $10.3 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 $14.2 billion.
The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.