Two whistleblower cases unsealed this week reveal how aggressive pharmaceutical marketing programs can cross the line into Medicare fraud and kickbacks. Trips to the Kentucky Derby for doctors and huge bonuses for sales reps can lead to bribes, conflicts of interest and poor-quality care.

Illustration: Tinker ReadyIn one case, a drug maker was competing with a far less expensive, easier-to-administer alternative. Sales reps reportedly told doctors they could shorten a two-to-three week treatment with the Questcor’s expensive anti-seizure drug to one week. However, the Food and Drug Administration had not vetterd the efficacy of the one-week course, according to the case.

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In the settlement case, the company is charged with secretly covering co-pays for all Medicare patients –not just those in need — thus insulating them from a steep price hike. Good for the patients, whose co-pays could have reached $5,000, DOJ noted; bad for the rest of us, who have to pay the balance. That’s why the approach is considered a kickback.


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