Novartis charged with $65 million in illegal kickbacks to docs to tout diabetes pill Starlix

Prosecutors for Uncle Sam have charged that Swiss drug maker Novartis have paid massive kickbacks to 26,997 physicians including money, free dinners and entertainment to steer patients to Starlix and two of its hypertension pills, Lotrel and Valturna.

Under the Stark Act, an Anti-kickback law, it is not legal for a drug company to pay doctors to induce them to write prescriptions for the company’s drugs that are reimbursable under federal health care programs.

The charges stem from a lawsuit filed by a former sales representative for the company in 2011 under The False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file actions for the government where there is fraudulent billing to Medicare or Medicaid. In the Government’s suit, it is alleged that Medicaid paid more than $34 million for prescriptions written by doctors who took part in the drug-maker’s speakers program.

Court papers state that Novartis sales reps would contact doctors and ask them to give speeches about the company’s drugs. The doctors would be paid by the company. Those payments were inducements to boost the number of prescriptions they wrote, said the government. Novartis is fighting the charges.

Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers