The U.S. Justice Dept. said that Danvers-based Abiomed agreed to settle the allegations for $3.1 million after a whistleblower’s lawsuit – which is still under seal at the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts – accused the company of buying meals for doctors “at some of the country’s most expensive restaurants, including Menton in Boston, Nobu in Los Angeles, Spago in Beverly Hills, and Eleven Madison Park in New York City.”
Abiomed managers approved the expenses for meals during which “attendees ordered alcohol in an amount inconsistent with legitimate scientific discussion” and allowed the physician’s spouses to attend some of them “even though the spouses had no legitimate business purpose for attending the meal,” the prosecutors alleged.
The company also paid for numerous meals for which the per-person cost “well exceeded” Abiomed’s internal $150-per-person limit – in one case the per-person cost was $450, they alleged. And Abiomed employees allegedly misrepresented the number of attendees, listed them under fictitious names (“Mike Anesthesia” in one instance) and schemed to drive the reported per-person cost down by listing fictitious names for people who did not attend the meals, according to the Justice Dept.
“After nearly four years, we are putting this matter behind us to focus on our heart recovery mission and to continue investing in innovation, education and clinical support to ensure we help improve patient outcomes,” an Abiomed representative told MassDevice.com via email.
“We expect today’s settlement with Abiomed to serve as a warning to medical device manufacturers who try to improperly influence the treatment decisions of physicians,” U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling said in prepared remarks. “Providing doctors with lavish meals, or meals that focus on entertainment rather than education or science, can impair a physician’s independent medical judgment – something each and every patient is entitled to. My office will continue to investigate sales practices that interfere with that independent medical judgment and that heighten the risk of improper use of limited federal healthcare dollars.”
The whistleblower in the case, U.S. ex rel. Bennett v. Abiomed, is slated to receive $542,000 from the settlement, the Justice Dept. said.