Feds want nearly 80k 'sham' event records in Novartis kickback case

The federal government has asked Novartis AG, a Swiss drug company, to supply records of about 79,236 promotional programs, claiming the events resulted in kickbacks to healthcare providers.

The government made its request as part of a lawsuit brought against Novartis, which alleges the company paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to physicians to induce them to prescribe its drugs to patients. The lawsuit was originally filed under the qui tam, or whistle-blower, provision of the False Claims Act by a former Novartis sales representative.

As a result of the kickbacks, Medicare and Medicaid allegedly paid millions of dollars in reimbursements based on fraudulent insurance claims submitted for various Novartis drugs between 2002 and 2011.

In a recent court filing, Novartis claims the government's new record request "exploded" the size of the case. Up until the recent request, the government's lawsuit had focused on "sham" speaker events organized by Novartis, where there was allegedly very little or no discussion of the company's drugs. Some of the speaker events were held at expensive restaurants and sports bars.

However, more than 50,000 of the newly alleged "sham" events are roundtables, which do not involve a healthcare provider speaker, according to Novartis.

In its recent court filing, Novartis argues it should not have to respond to the government's "excessive and burdensome" request. The company said tens of thousands of the events occurred more than 10 years ago, and responding to the request would require Novartis to search the files of 5,400 sales representatives.    

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