"Several hundred" physicians remain under investigation even though drug manufacturer AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals pleaded guilty to Medicare and Medicaid fraud and agreed to pay $355 million in penalties and to settle civil fraud charges, a federal prosecutor says.
AstraZeneca agreed to the penalty Friday in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., where the British drug company has its U.S. headquarters.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Moskow-Schnoll, the case closely parallels the $875 million settlement that TAP Pharmaceuticals reached with federal officials in 2001, in that both involve illegal billing for competing prostate cancer treatments.
A former TAP vice president, Douglas Durand, blew the whistle on both companies. He stands to receive a $47.5 million reward for stepping forward and filing suit under the False Claims Act.
The settlement and guilty plea requires AstraZeneca to pay a $63.9 million criminal fine, in part to cover $39.9 million in losses to Medicare, Medicaid and other federally funded health plans, and to turn over an additional $266.1 million under the False Claims Act for allegedly defrauding Medicare, TriCare, the Department of Defense and the Railroad Retirement Board Medicare programs, Justice Department officials say.
Urologists Saad Antoun, M.D., of Holmdel, N.J., Stanley Hopkins, M.D., of Boca Raton, Fla., and Robert Berkman, M.D., of Columbus, Ohio, previously agreed to plead guilty for billing the government for hundreds of doses of Zoladex they received free from AstraZeneca sales representatives.
"Antoun actually went to Zeneca and told them to give him samples or he would prescribe Lupron," the TAP drug for prostate cancer, Moskow-Schnoll says.
The assistant U.S. attorney says the Justice Department will not be bringing charges against any individuals from AstraZeneca but the investigation continues into possible wrongdoing by other physicians.
"Several hundred (physicians) billed for Zoladex samples that they received," Moskow-Schnoll says.
"The point is to get doctors to prescribe based on medical judgment, not based on how much money they can make," the prosecutor says.