AstraZeneca Pays Up.

The pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, pleaded guilty in a court case in Wilmington, USA on a charge of health care fraud and agreed to pay $355 million to settle criminal and civil accusations that it engaged in a nationwide scheme to illegally market a prostate cancer drug. The US government charged that the company’s employees had given illegal financial inducements to as many as 400 doctors across the country to persuade them to prescribe the drug, Zoladex. Those inducements included thousands of free samples of Zoladex, worth hundreds of dollars each, which the physicians then apparently billed to Medicare and other US federal health care programmes, prosecutors said. The prosecution also stated that the company gave doctors financial grants, paid them as consultants and provided free travel and entertainment too.

The $355 million that AstraZeneca, a British company, agreed to pay, is one of the largest ever settlements in a heath care fraud case. The company will pay about $266 million to the federal government to settle most of the civil accusations while an additional $25 million will go to settle accusations that it defrauded the Medicaid programs, which are partly financed by the individual states. A further $64 million approximately is a criminal fine. "We want doctors to prescribe what is best for their patients and not what is best for the doctor’s bank account," Richard G. Andrews, first assistant United States attorney for the District of Delaware, said at a news conference.

He and other prosecutors said the government’s action should send a message to all pharmaceutical companies that such conduct will not be tolerated. Mr. Andrews said that AstraZeneca had reported false and inflated prices for Zoladex to the federal government so that doctors could earn significant profits by prescribing the drug.

Prosecutors said that they did not plan to charge any AstraZeneca employees for the illegal activities that they say began in 1991 and continued until last year. "The investigation did not discover any evidence to implicate AstraZeneca’s upper levels of management," Mr.Andrews said.
(Taken from The New York Times, 21st June 2003)

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