The New Settlement
The legal settlement in question was simple, as reported by Reuters,
McKesson Corp, one of top U.S. drug wholesalers, has agreed to pay more than $190 million to settle claims that it had violated the federal False Claims Act by reporting inflated pricing information for many prescription drugs, causing Medicaid to overpay for them.
The settlement was announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey.
According to the government, McKesson reported inflated pricing data to First DataBank, a publisher of drug prices that most state Medicaid programs use to set payment rates for pharmaceutical products.
The government accused McKesson of marking up prices on a variety of drugs by 25 percent between Aug. 1, 2001, and March 31, 2005.
It said McKesson's conduct had caused the United States and individual states to pay inflated reimbursements on Medicaid claims submitted between Aug. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2009.
'We have no tolerance for those who take advantage of that system to bring in more business by falsely increasing reimbursements to retailers,' Fishman said in a statement.
As is typical, the company denied doing anything wrong:
McKesson was not immediately available to comment.It was hardly McKesson's first ethical problem.
According to settlement papers, McKesson 'expressly denies' the government's charges, as well as those of a whistleblower, David Morgan, in a related civil lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court. The San Francisco-based company did not admit liability or wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.
McKesson's Track Record
This is just the latest in a long series of legal problems for this company.
The Depression-Era Scandal
Way back in 1938, there was the McKesson & Robbins scandal, one of the major scandals of the depression era. The company had been taken over by one Philip Musica, an accused bootlegger, who committed suicide before a trial (see this post).
In this century, there were:
The Securities Fraud Case
As we posted in 2009, five former executives pleaded guilty, the former CEO and Chairman Charles McCall was convicted of fraud in 2009. The company settled investor lawsuits in 2005 for $960 million.
The First Pharmaceutical Pricing Case
As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009,
McKesson Corp., a giant drug-wholesale and -distribution company, agreed to pay $350 million to settle cases in which it was accused of helping to increase drug prices in 2001 and 2002. The money will go to health plans that pay for drugs and consumers who paid co-pays for their medicines.
The San Francisco-based company said the settlement, which is subject to court approval, includes 'an express denial of liability of any kind' but that it decided to settle the cases to avoid the uncertainty of litigation
In addition, as we noted here, the company settled with the state of Connecticut for "illegal and deceptive" pricing practices for a mere $15 million.
These settlements appear to be precursors of the just announced one.
The Propofolol Punitive Damages
As we noted here, McKesson was one of three companies to collectively pay $162 million in punitive damages in a case involving allegations that the companies sold propofolol, an injectable anesthetic, in reusable containers that were susceptible to contamination with the hepatitis C virus.
The Best-Paid CEO in America
All these legal issues notwithstanding, late in 2011, McKesson leadership made headlines for a different reason. Based on one method of computation, the company's CEO was the best-paid of an exceedingly well-paid 2011 CEO class. An article in the Daily Beast noted:
John Hammergren, [is] the CEO of the McKesson Corp., a giant medical-supply company in California. Hammergren is the $145 million man, top dog on the latest listing of the country’s highest-paid chief executives.
The details of the compensation package included,
Yet last year McKesson contributed more than $13 million just to Hammergren’s pension, according to company documents. Among the other perks he enjoys: a chauffeur to drive his company car, free use of the corporate jet for personal travel, and an extra $17,000 a year to pay for a financial planner because handling all those hundreds of millions is no doubt complicated stuff.
Then there are the assorted perks he gets each year at an annual cost of $1 million or so. Choose the perk that makes you the most jealous. Maybe it’s this line found in McKesson’s most recent proxy statement: 'For security, protection, and privacy reasons, the Board has directed our CEO to use the corporate aircraft for both business and private travel.' Or maybe it’s the bounty that awaits Hammergren on the other side of his retirement. The company discontinued its pension program for ordinary employees in 1997 but not for top executives. If Hammergren quit tomorrow, according to company filings, he would receive a pension valued at $125 million.
The party won’t stop once the 52-year-old Hammergren retires. Among his lifetime benefits: a personal assistant and office, which the company figures will cost more than $200,000 a year, and the services of a financial counselor—a perk that will eat up $350,000 in profits, according to company estimates. The goodies keep coming even after he dies. If his wife survives him, she will continue receiving his base salary for six months and will also get $2 million in cash. That cash bonus would actually cost the company nearly twice that amount, as it's promised to cover the widow’s cost of paying taxes on that money.
And then there’s a provision so outsize it’s drawn the attention of corporate-governance watchdogs like GMI, the research group that put Hammergren in the top spot of its latest survey of CEO salaries. If Hammergren loses his job due to a change in ownership, he receives an immediate $469 million payout, GMI found—giving him perverse incentive to see it happen.
Although Mr Hammergren has not been the best paid CEO every year, the Daily Beast article showed how much he has made over the years:
Hammergren’s annual total compensation payouts, taken from the company’s public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission: $46 million in 2011; $55 million in 2010; $37 million in 2009; another $41 million in 2008. Hammergren hadn’t founded the company. Wall Street analysts covering McKesson can tell you of the disappointments and miscues that have marked his tenure. But his haul in the 13 years he has been running McKesson? More than $500 million, according to data provided by Equilar, an executive-compensation data firm.
It then contrasted this consistent largess, spiced with the 2011 results, with the company's long-term financial performance. After the scandal that eventually resulted in crimincal convictions for some McKesson executives:
'They had to give the CEO job to somebody, and basically he was the last man standing,' said an analyst who has been covering McKesson and its competitors since the 1990s. Many in the industry had never heard of Hammergren when he took over as president and co-CEO in 1999, this analyst said, 'but I guess it’s better to be lucky than good.' Hammergren became sole CEO in 2001.Summary
McKesson’s stock had hit a high of just under $95 a share but fell below $20 after the scandal broke. Hammergren deserves credit for stabilizing the company—some might even say he rescued McKesson—but a long-term shareholder could be forgiven for feeling that the company’s board of directors has been overly generous to its chief executive. As of Friday, the stock was trading at $78 a share—still off its 1998 high. Factoring in the regular dividends the company has paid over the years, a shareholder’s investment would be worth slightly more than it was 13 years ago.
So Mr Hammergren's corpulent compensation is vastly out of proportion not only to the company's woeful ethical performance, but also to the long-term wealth created for its owners, that is, its shareholders.
So McKesson provides just the latest example of how the top hired leaders of health care organizations seem to monumentally prosper no matter how badly their organizations fare in terms of ethical performance, good done for patients and health care, or long-term financial performance. (See recent examples here and here, and our posts on executive compensation here.) As we quoted a McGill economics professor who was writing about the global financial collapse, "all this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit."
To truly reform health care, we must stop this compensation madness. We must make health care leaders accountable for their organizations' effects on patients' and the public's health, and make sure they get reasonable, not royal compensation reasonably related to their organizations' performance, including ethical performance.