HHS' inspector general's office told sponsors of the soon-to-be-implemented Medicare drug discount cards that payments to pharmacies or other providers for enrolling beneficiaries or directing them to particular cards may be illegal under federal antikickback law. Acting Principal Deputy Inspector General Dara Corrigan also warned sponsors that they may be fined if their marketing efforts include misleading information. "In light of the prominence of pharmacy benefits programs under the Medicare Modernization Act, we believe there is an increased need for scrutiny under the antikickback statute," Corrigan said in a three-page guidance letter. "And we intend to monitor the operation of drug card sponsor-funded education and outreach programs to determine whether they result in program or patient abuse."
HHS has approved 28 card sponsors and marketing begins in May. Some 7.3 million beneficiaries are expected to participate, saving 10% to 25% off their prescription drug costs. Washington attorney Kevin McAnaney, former head of industry guidance for the inspector general, said the office is concerned about potential "white coat marketing" by pharmacists, physicians or others in a position to refer business to card sponsors. Read the guidance. -- by Mark Taylor