|August 14, 2013|
Previously published on August 12, 2013
In a June 28, 2013 news release by the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, in San Diego, it was reported that a La Jolla, California medical oncology practice pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $500,000 fine, forfeit $1.2 million in gross proceeds received from the Medicare program, and make restitution to Medicare in the amount of $1.7 million for purchasing unapproved foreign cancer drugs and billing the Medicare program as if the drugs were legitimate. Although the drugs contained the same active ingredients as drugs sold in the U.S. under the brand names Abraxane®, Alimta®, Aloxi®, Boniva®, Eloxatin®, Gemzar®, Neulasta®, Rituxan®, Taxotere®, Venofer® and Zometa®), the drugs purchased by the corporation were meant for markets outside the United States, and were not drugs approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Medicare provides reimbursement only for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States. To conceal the scheme, the oncology practice fraudulently used and billed the Medicare program using reimbursement codes for FDA approved cancer drugs.
In pleading guilty, the practice admitted that from 2007 to 2011 it had purchased $3.4 million of foreign cancer drugs, knowing they had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States. The practice admitted that it was aware that the drugs were intended for markets other than the United States and were not the drugs approved by the FDA for use in the United States because: (a) the packaging and shipping documents indicated that drugs were shipped to the office from outside the United States; (b) many of the invoices identified the origin of the drugs and intended markets for the drugs as countries other than the United States; (c) the labels did not bear the “Rx Only” language required by the FDA; (d) the labels did not bear the National Drug Code (NDC) numbers found on the versions of the drugs intended for the U.S. market; (e) many of the labels had information in foreign languages; (f) the drugs were purchased at a substantial discount; (g) the packing slips indicated that the drugs came from the United Kingdom; and (h) in October, 2008 the practice had received a notice from the FDA that a shipment of drugs had been detained because the drugs were unapproved.
In a related False Claims Act lawsuit filed by the United States, the physician and his medical practice corporation paid in excess of $2.2 million to settle allegations that they submitted false claims to the Medicare program. The corporation was allowed to apply that sum toward the amount owed in the criminal restitution to Medicare. The physician pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of introducing unapproved drugs into interstate commerce, admitting that on July 8, 2010, he purchased the prescription drug MabThera (intended for market in Turkey and shipped from a source in Canada) and administered it to patients. Rituxan®, a product with the same active ingredient, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.