Thursday, October 21, 2010

History Repeats, and Repeats: McKesson Settles

Here a settlement, there a settlement, everywhere a settlement....  And the march continues, as reported by the New London (CT) Day,
Pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corp. will pay Connecticut $15 million for 'illegal and deceptive practices' that inflated drug costs for both individual consumers and state-funded programs, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Tuesday.

The settlement calls for $9 million to be used for reimbursing Connecticut's Medicaid program and $3 million for ConnPace, a state program that provides drug coverage for seniors. In addition, $2.3 million will be paid as a civil penalty and $700,000 will go into the state's drug-assistance program for AIDS patients.

Blumenthal had charged in a lawsuit that San Francisco-based McKesson conspired with First DataBank - which publishes average wholesale prices of drugs - to increase the amounts Connecticut paid for brand-name remedies by about 25 percent over usual wholesale costs. Previously, the prices had been 20 percent above wholesale.

McKesson used the increase to sweeten the 'spread' - the amount of profit - that could be taken by pharmacies, thereby increasing its share of the market, he said.

'McKesson manipulated the drug market - conspiring to inflate costs for hundreds of drugs and exploiting public programs that serve our most vulnerable citizens,' Blumenthal said in a statement.

Having been posting on this blog for nearly five years, it is interesting that viewed over time, patterns emerge suggesting that certain organizations have chronic problems with bad behavior. Last year, we noted that a former McKesson Chairman of the Board was convicted of five counts of securities fraud arising from actions occurring in the early part of the 21st century. Five former McKesson executives had already pleaded guilty to related crimes. Last year, Bloomberg called this scandal "one of the largest white-collar crimes."

This pattern may go back a lot longer that the turn of the last century.  Amazingly, the same company, McKesson, was involved in one of the biggest frauds of the great depression era. From the Wikipedia entry,
The McKesson & Robbins, Inc. scandal of 1938 was one of the major financial scandals of the 20th century. The company McKesson & Robbins, Inc. (now McKesson Corporation) had been taken over in 1925 by Phillip Musica, who had previously used Adelphia Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company as a front for bootlegging operations. Musica, a twice-convicted felon, used assumed names to conceal his true identity in taking control of the two companies: Frank D. Costa at Adelphia Pharmaceutical and F. Donald Coster at McKesson & Robbins. Although he was successful in expanding the company’s legitimate business operations, Musica recruited three of his brothers, also working under assumed names, one outside the company and two inside it, to generate bogus sales documentation and to pay commissions to a shell distribution company under their control. Eventually, McKesson & Robbins treasurer Julian Thompson discovered the distribution company was bogus. It was eventually determined that about $20 million of the $87 million in assets on the company’s balance sheet were phony.

In December 1938, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opened an investigation and Musica was arrested. Only after he was booked, fingerprinted and released on bond did the authorities realize that 'Coster' was in reality Musica. His bond was revoked and he committed suicide before he could be rearrested.

The McKesson & Robbins scandal led to major corporate governance and auditing reforms. The SEC required that public companies have audit committees of 'outside' directors and that the appointment of auditors be approved by the shareholders. The American Institute of Accountants (now the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) adopted audit standards requiring that auditors verify accounts receivable and inventory.

So I guess in some ways it should not be a surprise that a company involved in one of the biggest financial scandals of the depression era, and then one of the biggest white-collar crime of the early 21st century, should now be involved in a comparatively small settlement involving allegations of over-charges for drugs.

Given that in this latest case, the settlement was small, and there were no negative consequences for any individual who authorized, directed, or implemented the alleged market manipulation, it seems doubtful that it will have any lasting effect on corporate leadership of the corporate culture.

McKesson's long and chequered history suggests some sort of chronic affliction of its corporate culture.  It also suggests a rationale for requiring heath care organizations to have ongoing, active organizational ethics policies.  


Anonymous said...

Any word on their settlement with Oklahoma and Montana? Curious to see what they paid!

Anonymous said...

This is the worst job I have ever had. After 5 yrs being very happy with the company they started their shit.... cut my pay & status, took made me reapply for my own job and now reapply for a part of my job I have done over 4 yrs. WTF!!!??? They preach Integrity, Respect, etc etc but THEY DON"T DO IT THEMSELVES! They pay way below average for medical personelle. DO NOT WORK FOR THIS company!!!