NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government sued Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. again on Friday, saying it paid kickbacks for a decade to doctors to steer patients toward its drugs, sometimes disguising fishing trips off the Florida coast and trips to Hooters restaurants as speaking engagements for the doctors.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came two days after the government brought a similar lawsuit against Novartis, which is based in East Hanover, N.J. The first lawsuit said the company paid kickbacks to pharmacies to switch kidney transplant patients from competitors' drugs to its own.
In the second lawsuit, the government accused the company of using from 2001 through 2011 multimillion-dollar "incentive programs" that targeted doctors willing to accept illegal kickbacks to urge patients to use the company's drugs.
"And for its investment, Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care programs were left holding the bag," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Novartis President Andre Wyss said the company disagreed with the way the government characterized its conduct and stands behind its compliance program.
"NPC invests significant time and resources to help ensure we conduct our business in an ethical and responsible manner," Wyss said in a statement. "We are committed to doing it right."
The government said Novartis paid doctors to speak about certain drugs at events that were little more than social occasions, including fishing outings and trips to Hooters, known for its scantily clad waitresses. At other times, the government said, Novartis treated doctors to expensive dinners at high-end restaurants, including a dinner for three doctors on Valentine's Day 2006 at a West Des Moines, Iowa, restaurant that cost Novartis $1,042 per person.