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Doctor indicted for taking kickbacks and giving drug maker patient data

thx to pictures of money on flickr creative commons [1]

thx to pictures of money on flickr creative commons

In an unusual move, federal authorities indicted a physician for releasing patient data and accepting $23,500 in exchange for writing prescriptions for a pair of drugs sold by Warner-Chilcott, which is now owned by Allergan.

The indictment, which was filed last week, states that Warner-Chilcott sales reps approached Dr. Margaret Luthra, a gynecologist in Springfield, Mass., to serve as a so-called speaker, according to court documents. The drug maker approached her in 2010 because she was a “high volume prescriber” of Actonel and Atelvia, which are treatments for osteoporosis, the court records say.

The crowd, however, was rather small. The sales rep brought food for the physician and her staff and, in exchange, the physician would speak for about 25 to 30 minutes, according to court documents [2]. Luthra received $750 for each of the sessions, which occurred in 2010 and 2011, and the drug maker also paid for a barbeque at the physician’s home, the court records state.

The indictment also alleges that Luthra allowed Warner-Chilcott sales reps to access confidential patient data after insurers denied coverage for the drugs. The company sought the patient data in order to submit what are called prior authorization forms, which refer to specific requests made by doctors to insurers to provide coverage for a medicine, according to court documents.

We reached Luthra at her office, but she declined to comment. Her attorney, Stephen Spelman, told us that “Dr. Luthra completely denies all the allegations and is looking forward to the trial. She expects that, after the jury hears all the facts, she will be completely exonerated.”

The indictment is an outgrowth of a whistleblower lawsuit [3] that was filed in 2011 by two former Warner-Chilcott sales reps, who claimed the drug maker illegally marketed the osteoporosis medicines and paid kickbacks to doctors to boost prescriptions. That case, which is ongoing, detailed an alleged plan by the drug maker to pay speaking fees to “buy the business” and induce doctors to write prescriptions.

Last July, a former Warner-Chilcott sales manager, Jeff Podolsky, pleaded guilty [4] to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for directing sales reps to review patient medical charts to obtain info needed to fill out prior authorizations forms, according to the feds. As a result, insurers and Medicare paid at least $200,000 for prescriptions that were not medically necessary and would have not been paid otherwise.

It is unusual, though, for the feds to target physicians in connection with such litigation. Generally, the authorities reach settlements with drug makers for off-label marketing or paying kickbacks. One notable example, though, was a Chicago psychiatrist who, earlier this year, pleaded guilty to receiving illegal kickbacks totaling nearly $600,000 from drug makers in exchange for prescribing an anti-psychotic.

“We don’t see this very often,” said Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud, a nonprofit that advocates for tough penalties and is partially funded by attorneys. “In this case, it appears to be a tactic, though. I think [the government is] going after her because they believe she has information that will implicate folks higher up.”

Whether any executives or senior managers from Warner-Chilcott are still working at the company is unclear. Warner-Chilcott was purchased two years ago by Actavis for $8 billion. And Actavis later bought Allergan, but uses the Allergan names. An Allergan spokesman declined to comment.