Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Month, Another Set of Legal Settlements, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, and Jury Findings Adverse to Large Health Care Corporations

Another month, another series of adverse legal rulings suggesting misbehavior by large health care organizations.  In alphabetical order,...

Baxter, McKesson, Teva Pay Punitive Damages

As reported by Bloomberg,
A jury said Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. unit and two other drugmakers must pay $162.5 million in punitive damages for selling the anesthetic Propofol in a way that led three colonoscopy patients to develop Hepatitis C.

Jurors in state court Las Vegas ordered Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc., Baxter Healthcare Corp. and McKesson Corp. to pay so-called punishment damages over sales of the anesthetic in vials large enough to be reused by doctors. Anne Arnold, Richard Sacks and Anthony Devito contend they contracted Hepatitis C from reused vials during colonoscopy procedures. They had sought more than $700 million in damages.

It’s the second punitive award against Baxter and the unit of Petach Tikva, Israel-based Teva over a 2008 hepatitis outbreak in Nevada tied to Propofol. The first case resulted in a punitive verdict of more than $500 million against the drugmakers. Teva has agreed to cover all damage awards arising from the Nevada cases on behalf of Baxter and McKesson.

In particular,
The patients’ lawyers allege Teva intentionally sold Propofol in jumbo-sized vials to encourage doctors to reuse them, even with the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis, an incurable liver disease.

So the allegations are that the company intentionally put financial gain ahead of the safety of patients.

Boston Scientific Settles Over-Billing Allegations

Again per Bloomberg:
Boston Scientific Corp.’s Guidant LLC unit will pay $9.25 million to settle a whistleblower’s claim that the company over-billed the U.S. and private hospitals for heart pacemakers and defibrillators.

The details:
Guidant allegedly reneged on credits owed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for replacement of units still under warranty and is accused of over-charging hospitals for the devices, causing them to over-bill Medicare, according to an e-mailed statement from the Justice Department.

Note that we have quite a extensive files on Boston Scientific, and on Guidant, now its subsidiary.

Hil-Rom Settles Fraud Allegations

Reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday a $41.8 million civil fraud settlement in a 'whistle-blower' lawsuit against international medical equipment supply company, Hill-Rom Company Inc.

The results also were that
As part of the settlement, Hill-Rom has entered into a five-year 'corporate integrity agreement,' in which the firm will face close scrutiny by federal officials, Killian said.
The allegations were:
'Hill-Rom submitted false claims for medical equipment for patients who did not qualify for the equipment, including patients who had died, were no longer using the equipment or had been moved to nursing homes,' [US Attorney Bill] Killian said.

In particular,
The lawsuit alleged the firm was ripping off Medicare with its faulty billing practices. According to the lawsuit, unsealed Tuesday, Hill-Rom offered its sales representatives $200 gift certificates and 42-inch televisions as reward for boosting billings and, in 2001, laid off the lion's share of staff dedicated to ensuring compliance with Medicare rules.

Note that this suggests a pattern of providing incentives to employees who "make their numbers," no matter how they do so. We have seen how making the financial numbers seems to take precedence over all else, including patients' well-being, in many contemporary health care organizations.

Maxim Healthcare Settles Fraud Allegations

In a story in the Baltimore Sun,
A Columbia-based health care firm has agreed to a $150 million settlement with the federal government and 43 states to resolve criminal and civil charges that it submitted claims for millions of dollars of work that it did not perform and operated offices that were not properly licensed, officials said Monday.

A five-year federal investigation found that Maxim Healthcare Services Inc., one of the country's largest providers of home healthcare services, submitted $61 million in false claims for services to the federal government's Medicaid and Veterans Affairs health programs over an 11-year period from 1998 to 2009.

Investigators said managers and workers at Maxim repeatedly modified time sheets and documents to cover up the fraud, creating a culture in which submitting false claims became 'common practice.'

The settlement was of criminal as well as civil charges:
The settlement includes a $20 million criminal fine and $130 million in civil settlements.

It will also involve a deferred prosecution or corporate integrity agreement:
In addition to the fines, Maxim also has been charged criminally with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. But the company could avoid conviction if it meets requirements outlined in the settlement.

Unlike many such cases, this one involved criminal charges for and guilty pleas by some people involved in the wrong-doing, in this case, middle managers:
Several regional account managers, a home health aid and a clinical services director also pleaded guilty to criminal charges, government officials said. They could face as much as $250,000 in fines and jail time for their roles in the fraud.

Another atypical result was that the CEO who presided over the misbehavior actually suffered some consequences, although he did not have to pay fines for face criminal charges,
Maxim officials said they take full responsibility for the violations. The company said it hired a new CEO in 2009 and changed its business practices to protect against a repeat.

ProPublica published an article at the same time which noted that Maxim's practices had come into question before,
A different set of problems involving Maxim came up during a ProPublica investigation into the oversight of registered nurses in 2009. We identified several nurses who were hired by the Maryland-based company despite having a record of problems.

Although that previous article did not mention the company's name:
The articles focused on how regulators across the country did little to scrutinize troubled nurses who crossed state lines to continue working. Our earlier stories did not identify Maxim by name.

We have noted that organizations which misbehave once are likely to misbehave again. This may stem from an organizational culture that puts revenue ahead of ethics and patients' and the public's health, and the lack of negative consequences that people who respond to the resulting positive financial incentives are likely to suffer.

Medicis Settles Shareholder Class-Action Lawsuit

Noted by the Arizona Republic,
Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. and its auditing firm, Ernst & Young, have agreed to pay $18 million to settle a shareholder class-action lawsuit stemming from the pharmaceutical company's financial statements.

The shareholders alleged that Medicis was not honest about its financial affairs:
The shareholders' lawsuit stems from Medicis' announcement in September 2008 that it would restate earnings from 2003 through the first half of 2008.

Shareholders alleged that Medicis offered its wholesale customers generous return policies for prescription drugs as part of an effort to inflate the company's revenue. Medicis would accept returned products that were expired or about to expire at either no cost or substantial discounts to the wholesale customers, according to the lawsuit.


The constant march of legal settlements by, jury verdicts against, and in some cases criminal convictions of or guilty pleas by large health care corporations indicate how common misbehavior by such organizations has become. Since it is likely that much misbehavior does not lead to publicly announced legal actions, what is published can only provide a floor for an estimate of how common it is. The march, which we have been documenting since starting Health Care Renewal, shows how sleazy and often corrupt health care has become, and how that sleaziness and corruption is prevalent not just among small players, but among the biggest and richest health care organizations, and their top leaders.

One reason the situation continues to be so bad is that while the unethical behavior does sometimes result in pontificating by the civil authorities, and fines that may only be costs of doing business, it rarely leads to meaningful negative consequences for those who authorized, directed or implemented it. This was noted in the reporting of the Maxim Healthcare case above. For example, in the Baltimore Sun article we found,
One watchdog group called the penalty a drop in the bucket for a company that had $2 billion in reimbursements from 2003 to 2009.

'That is hardly crippling,' said Joe Newman, a spokesman for the Project on Government Oversight, which tracks government contractors. 'It is certainly something that stings Maxim's pocketbook, but they will be fine after that.'

'They won't be barred from the Medicaid program. That would hurt them.'

Also, Sun columnist Jay Hancock wrote:
Corporations are happy to be treated as people under the law, as we know from recent court decisions. They can own property. They can seek redress in Congress and the courts. They can make huge political contributions.

But when it comes to being penalized for cheating the government, corporations quickly abandon their personhood and go back to being abstract blobs.

'I don't know about you, but if I hired a contractor to work on my house and he charged me a ton of extra money for work he didn't do, I wouldn't use that contractor again,' Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said in Congress a few months ago. 'And I would make sure my friends knew not to use them either. It seems like the same should be true of government contractors.'

But that is often not the case. For years, government agencies have not vigorously enforced the law when doing so might inconvenience big corporations and their well-paid executives. Maybe this lenience stems from the loony philosophy of former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, who was once regarded as some sort of economic genius, who seemed to think that fraud cannot occur in his idealized idea of a free market, because somehow all bad actors would become widely known and therefore all counter-parties would avoid them. In an article in Stanford Magazine,
The influential Greenspan was an ardent proponent of unfettered markets. Born was a powerful Washington lawyer with a track record for activist causes. Over lunch, in his private dining room at the stately headquarters of the Fed in Washington, Greenspan probed their differences.

'Well, Brooksley, I guess you and I will never agree about fraud,' Born, in a recent interview, remembers Greenspan saying.

'What is there not to agree on?' Born says she replied.

'Well, you probably will always believe there should be laws against fraud, and I don’t think there is any need for a law against fraud,' she recalls. Greenspan, Born says, believed the market would take care of itself.

For the incoming regulator, the meeting was a wake-up call. 'That underscored to me how absolutist Alan was in his opposition to any regulation,' she said in the interview.

It is a measure of the insanity of recent years that one of the chief leaders of government economic policy did not believe there was any need for laws against fraud.

It appears that this daft idea has carried over to and still influences how many in government and out deal with health care. However, as we have ddiscussed, health care is not and probably cannot ever be an ideal free market. Also, in health care, most of the bad actions remain anechoic, and in many cases it may be hard for counter-parties to avoid bad actors because they may dominate the market. Also, it may be those that make decisions about whether to deal with particular organizations may be executives, and sometimes health care professionals who have become indifferent to the ethical issues.

As I have said again and again, pervasive bad behavior by large health care organizations has got to be a major cause of our ongoing health care dysfunction.

So, to really deter bad behavior, those who authorized, directed or implemented bad behavior must be held accountable. As long as they are not, expect the bad behavior to continue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Stupid is as stupid does."

These examples show how little regard the companies have for the system that they feel they can get away with such transparent scams.

Or, this shows a system so poorly designed and managed that people feel they can get away with such poorly executed scams.

Either way, as noted, this is just the cost of doing business.

Steve Lucas