Olympus Corporation of the Americas, the United States’ largest distributor of endoscopes and related medical equipment, recently agreed to pay $623.2 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims, according to a United States Department of Justice (DOJ) press release on March 1, 2016. The settlement is a result of a qui tam action alleging violations of the Federal False Claims Act (FCA), Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), and analogous state statutes for paying kickbacks to physicians and hospitals to induce the purchase of Olympus medical and surgical equipment. Olympus was required to enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement and a Deferred Prosecution Agreement that, among other things, includes an executive financial recoupment program that will cause company executives to forfeit certain compensation if they are associated with future misconduct.
The relator and government alleged that, because the Olympus equipment used for treatment was purchased as a result of a kickback, Olympus caused the physicians and hospitals to file false claims for treatment under Medicare, TRICARE, and Medicaid in violation of the FCA and state law. The kickbacks themselves were prohibited under the AKS. Both federal laws have separate penalties that were combined in this settlement, which is a reminder to the health care industry that liability under the FCA and AKS can reach staggering amounts.
What Providers Should Know
- If an employee raises a compliance concern, investigate and appropriately address the concern. Do not retaliate. While the Olympus relator was a former Chief Compliance Officer with a long employment history at Olympus, individuals at all levels and experiences may have insight into company practices sufficient to identify areas of compliance vulnerability (thereby later arming themselves with information sufficient to file a qui tam action should the company choose to ignore individuals’ concerns or otherwise fail to correct non-compliance).
- Prohibited remuneration under the AKS may take many forms. For instance, the remuneration that Olympus allegedly provided to physicians and hospitals included free use of medical equipment, unprotected discounts, payments disguised as grants for educational or research programs, payments to physicians in excess of fair market value for speaking engagements, vacations, meals, and entertainment.
- If referring health care providers receive remuneration, the compensation arrangements should be carefully structured to meet applicable AKS safe harbors. Providing remuneration in the form of medical equipment discounts, leases or payments for speaking engagements may increase a company’s exposure under the AKS. Where such remuneration is provided, it is best to structure the arrangement with relevant AKS safe harbor protection.
- An effective and robust compliance program is essential. In addition to allegations of kickbacks, the federal government also focused on Olympus’ alleged lack of appropriate training, knowledgeable compliance staff, and compliance programs to prevent and identify violations of the AKS and other federal health care laws.
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For More Information
For questions regarding this e-blast, please contact one of the authors, a member of Polsinelli's False Claims Act Defense practice, or your Polsinelli attorney.