July 2nd, 2019

I recently made a video, see this blog post, describing the problem of kickbacks in the healthcare industry here in the United States.  The short version: a kickback is a bribe, paid to someone who is supposed to advise you on what products or services to buy.  If that advisor, or “agent,” steers you to buy something not because it is the best, but instead because they get a financial benefit from the seller, this is a kickback. These things happen all the time in business and politics, which is troubling enough, but is also, unfortunately, all too common among medical practitioners. And it is particularly troubling because of how much trust we place in our physicians.

If a doctor is a paid speaker for a drug company, that can be a kickback. If a doctor consults for a medical equipment company and then uses or recommends their products, that too can be a kickback. And it’s not just doctors who get kickbacks. Hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies – all of these entities must face the morally ambiguous transactional nature of the business at some point. There are myriad opportunities for medical practitioners to take advantage of the system and use their expertise to gain financially from a mutually beneficial relationship that puts the consumer at risk. Remember, it is illegal to give anything of value that may influence the provider’s treatment plan. Do you think that as a patient you have been inadvertently involved in one of these bribery schemes?

Importantly, though, US laws don’t just prohibit the payment of kickbacks here in the United States.  An American law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, makes it illegal for companies to pay kickbacks to doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers in foreign countries – so long as those medical providers are employed by the government.  Because so many foreign healthcare systems are run by the government, this covers a broad range of foreign healthcare providers.  Whistleblowers can report this type of fraud through the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) whistleblower program.

A 2017 The Wall Street Journal article reported that a whistleblower received a tidy sum – about $4.5 million – for bringing his concerns to the SEC about a scheme that allegedly involved a medical device maker named in the article as Zimmer Biomet. The tipster, who has been identified as a former orthopedic surgeon residing in Brazil, received an anonymous tip and he passed the information along to the SEC. Federal authorities acted quickly and internationally to expose the scam and then compensated the whistleblower for his efforts.

It’s always heartening to see an instance of moral bravery, especially in the healthcare industry where the practice of kickbacks is so ubiquitous. We are always on the side of justice, especially when standing up to one’s colleagues and when it is especially difficult to expose corruption and take a stand. These individuals risk it all – reputation, career, and even one’s own practice. It can be time consuming, and you can face threats of all sorts, which is why it is wise to have an experienced attorney at your side throughout the whistleblowing process.

If you think you have knowledge about companies paying kickbacks, or just want to learn more about this problem, you can get in touch with The Whistleblower.com by using the confidential online form to start a free case evaluation.