Novartis must face trial over alleged physician kickbacks, judge rules

A federal  judge in New York has ruled that Novartis must face trial in a case accusing the drugmaker of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to physicians to boost prescription rates, according to Reuters.

The 8-year-old case began in 2011 as a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former Novartis sales representative. In 2013, the U.S. government and New York intervened in the case and accused the drugmaker of violating kickback laws.

The lawsuit accuses Novartis of paying physicians speaking fees for "sham" educational events and treating them to lavish meals. In one case, a physician was treated to a $9,750 dinner at a Japanese restaurant, the lawsuit claims.

As a result of the kickbacks, physicians prescribed Novartis' drugs more often, leading to false claims being submitted to Medicare and Medicaid, according to Reuters.

In the April 1 ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said that the government had offered evidence of a "companywide kickback scheme."

The judge dismissed a bid by Novartis to keep key government evidence from being used in the case.

"We are disappointed in today's decision and look forward to presenting our case at trial," Eric Althoff, a spokesperson for the Swiss drugmaker, told Reuters. "We continue to believe that the government has insufficient evidence to support its claims."

Unless Novartis settles, a trial is scheduled for May 20.

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