More complex fraud schemes bring doctors into legal fray

Pills on paper money

More physicians are facing fraud charges for taking bribes from laboratories, medical devices manufacturers, and drug makers, a reflection of the sheer amount of money that flows through the healthcare industry--and the temptation to get a cut, according to

Thirty-nine physicians have already entered guilty pleas for taking money from New Jersey-based Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services Inc., and more are expected, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman told the news outlet. He says kickback cases have “gotten bigger and more complicated,” and frequently involve dozens of physicians taking bribes.

Last week, Salix pharmaceuticals paid $54 million to settle claims it plied physicians with sham educational programs at high end restaurants.

In a recent $646 million settlement with Olympus Corp., the device manufacturer admitted that it paid hospitals and physicians kickbacks in the form of grants and trips to Japan in order to boost sales of medical equipment. According to Fishman, the government was unable to pursue those physicians because too much time had elapsed.

Experts have no concrete explanation for the influx of physicians accepting kickbacks, although some have pointed to the massive amount of money that flows through the healthcare industry as an financial opportunity that can be hard to ignore.

Laboratory payments to physicians have been a focal point for federal investigators since the Office of Inspector General released a fraud alert indicating those payments qualify as kickbacks. Since then, prosecutors have revealed a range of schemes, including some involving concert tickets for Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.

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