Physician Practice Roundup—Florida doctor pleads guilty to taking kickbacks, agrees to pay $2.8M; AstraZeneca vows to reveal doctor payments worldwide

justice scales and gavel
A Florida doctor will pay $2.8 million to the U.S. government to resolve allegations he violated the False Claims Act. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

Florida doctor pleads guilty to taking kickbacks, agrees to $2.8M settlement

A Florida doctor charged with multiple fraud schemes pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of conspiracy to receive healthcare kickbacks from a medical equipment provider and a pharmaceutical sales representative. Michael Frey, M.D., a 46-year-old Fort Myers doctor, faces time in federal prison and also agreed to a civil settlement under which he will pay $2.8 million to the U.S. government to resolve allegations he violated the False Claims Act in a number of ways, including receiving kickbacks and ordering medically unnecessary laboratory tests.

As part of a plea deal, Frey admitted he received kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics Inc. in exchange for writing prescriptions for Subsys, a fentanyl-based pain medicine. Those kickbacks were paid in the form of fees to participate in what prosecutors said was a largely bogus speaker event program so that he would prescribe their product. Frey, a pain management specialist, was one of two principal owners of Advanced Pain Management Specialists in Fort Myers.

"This was an alarming case of a physician who abused his position of trust for money," U.S. Attorney Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida said in a statement. (U.S. Attorney’s Office statement)

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AstraZeneca pressures fellow pharmas with vow to reveal doctor payments worldwide

The drug industry's payments to doctors raise concerns about prescription bias and have triggered bribery investigations, too. So, to win patients' trust, transparency matters. And now, AstraZeneca is going beyond fellow Big Pharma companies to disclose all its doctor payments, even in regions where it's not required.

CEO Pascal Soriot told investors at its annual meeting that his company plans to disclose payments in all countries where it has commercial activities, according to The Times. Several countries, including the U.S., require those disclosures under local regulations.

“[There was] no reason for us not to disclose,” said Soriot, as quoted by The Times of London. “It’s only a question of making sure we have the tools to do it in an efficient and indeed transparent manner. I think we should be able to do it soon.” (Fierce Pharma)

Sessions adds over 300 new assistant U.S. attorneys, includes focus on opioid epidemic

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday the Department of Justice will add 311 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys across the country. That is the largest increase in decades and will add prosecutors to focus on violent crime, target the opioid crisis and enforce immigration laws, Sessions said. Since January 2017, the Justice Department has charged more than 150 doctors and another 150 medical personnel with opioid-related crimes, according to Sessions. Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally. (Department of Justice announcement)

Atul Gawande tells medical school graduates to hold onto principles

Surgeon Atul Gawande, M.D., delivered the commencement address to the UCLA Medical School last Friday, telling the students to hold onto their principles, including that people have lives of equal worth.

“Graduates, wherever you go from here, and whatever you do, you will be tested. And the test will be about your ability to hold onto your principles. The foundational principle of medicine, going back centuries, is that all lives are of equal worth,” said Gawande. (New Yorker)

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