Judge Gives Green Light to Johnson & Johnson Whistleblower Case

A federal judge refused to dismiss an intervened qui tam action, which alleges Johnson & Johnson paid millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks to Omnicare, the nation’s largest nursing home pharmacy, for the purpose of driving up sales of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

According to the government’s complaint, Johnson & Johnson paid $50 million to Omnicare between 1999 and 2004 to get it to push Risperdal to elderly patients with dementia, and then hid those kickbacks as payments for services that Omnicare never actually provided. Omnicare then enacted intervention programs such as the “Risperdal Initiative” to persuade physicians to prescribe the drug to elderly dementia patients.

In an effort to derail the action, Johnson & Johnson argued that the so-called “illegal kickbacks” were actually legal rebates, permissible under the controlling Medicare regulations. However, after extensive briefing, Judge Sterns sided with the plaintiffs and denied Johnson & Johnson’s motion to dismiss.

This case was originally filed nearly eight years ago by an Omnicare pharmacist that was troubled by his employer’s business practices of accepting kickbacks from drug makers. Ultimately, he decided to take a stand and filed qui tam actions against Ominicare and several pharmaceutical companies.

In 2009, Omnicare settled the FCA allegations for $98 million, quieting claims that the company accepted kickbacks that were hidden as data fees, education fees and as payments to attend Omnicare meetings. However, Johnson & Johnson sought to silence the whistleblower’s action through the legal system. Now, with the government intervening in the action in 2010 and the court giving a green light to the action last week, Johnson & Johnson might be reconsidering options.

For more information about qui tam law and health care fraud, contact Nolan & Auerbach, P.A.

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