The Latest Settlement
The details, per Reuters,
Omnicare, Inc, a leading U.S. provider of pharmacy services to the elderly, has agreed to pay the U.S. government $120 million to settle allegations the company gave nursing homes steep discounts on prescription drugs in exchange for patient referrals.
Cincinnati-based Omnicare announced the settlement on Wednesday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but denied any wrongdoing. The lawsuit, filed in 2010 by former Omnicare employee Donald Gale, had been scheduled to go to trial on October 28.
Gale accused the company of engaging in a kickback scheme called 'swapping' in which Omnicare allegedly gave nursing homes heavily discounted prescription drugs for inpatients covered by Medicare Part A. That federal benefit program pays skilled nursing facilities a fixed fee per patient, per day, for the first 100 days of a patient's stay, according to court filings.
In exchange, the nursing homes allegedly referred their other patients, many covered by other federal benefit programs, allowing Omnicare to bill the full price of their prescription drugs and pharmacy services, the lawsuit said.
As is usually the case,
Omnicare's vice president of investor relations, Patrick Lee, said in an emailed statement that the company did not admit liability in settling the lawsuit.
'The Company agreed to settle the matter in order to avoid continued litigation and to focus on its mission of helping to ensure the health of seniors and other patient populations in a cost-effective manner,' he said.
He did not comment on the discrepancy between the alleged kickback scheme apparently meant to increase company revenue and that bit about ensuring health in "a cost-effective manner."
Will There be Still Others?
In addition, the Cincinnati Business Courier quoted another Omnicare executive,
'This settlement is not an admission of liability, and Omnicare continues to deny that there was any wrongdoing,' Robert Kraft, chief financial officer for Omnicare, said Wednesday in a conference call with market analysts regarding the company’s third-quarter earnings. 'When we agree to settle these types of matters, we have and will continue to make decisions in the best interest of our shareholders. …'
'We operate in a highly regulated industry, and we believe additional matters will likely arise against the company in the future,' Kraft said. 'We believe the matters of which we are now aware, including the aforementioned settlement, are manageable given the company's financial position and cash-flow characteristics.'
Was that an admission that the company often violates regulations? It is hard to tell. However, it is clear that this is not the first settlement of allegations of bad behavior that the company has made.
The Previous Settlements
The Cincinnati Business Courier article also stated,
I reported in August on the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Omnicare, which had alleged that a former president and CEO as well as some other former officers or directors of the company had violated federal laws related to kickbacks and false claims.
That settlement was for a mere $16.7 million.
In addition, as we discussed in 2010, in 2009, we discussed a $98 million settlement made by Omnicare, US based corporation that manages pharmacy-benefits, of allegations that it received kickbacks from generic drug manufacturers for buying and recommending their drugs. Omnicare had previously submitted to a corporate integrity agreement in 2006, and paid $102 million to settle allegations it defrauded Medicaid.
So the count so far is four settlements for a total of approximately $337 million, and one corporate integrity agreement.
So Omnicare is yet another of the many large health care organizations which have been subject to various legal actions suggesting diverse kinds of bad behavior. Omnicare, like many of these, has paid penalty upon penalty, yet each settlement seems to be made in a vacuum without reference to prior events. Furthermore, almost no settlement, and no settlement made by Omnicare, ever either imposed a large enough penalty on the company to deter further problems, or imposed any - I repeat any - negative consequences on anyone at the company who authorized, directed, or implemented the bad behavior. So, as obliquely stated by the Omnicare CFO in this case, expect further "matters" to be addressed in the future.
So as we said on the subject of Omnicare in 2010,
the usual sorts of legal settlements we have described do not seem to be an effective way to deter future unethical behavior by health care organizations. Even large fines can be regarded just as a cost of doing business. Furthermore, the fine's impact may be diffused over the whole company, and ultimately comes out of the pockets of stockholders, employees, and customers alike. It provides no negative incentives for those who authorized, directed, or implemented the behavior in question. My refrain has been: we will not deter unethical behavior by health care organizations until the people who authorize, direct or implement bad behavior fear some meaningfully negative consequences. Real health care reform needs to make health care leaders accountable, and especially accountable for the bad behavior that helped make them rich.By Roy M. Poses on Health Care Renewal