News from the Health Law Gurus™ is a weekly summary of notable health law news from around the country with helpful links to related content.
Burwell Confirmed as HHS Secretary—Last week, the Senate approved of the Obama Administration’s nominee for Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Sylvia Mathews Burwell, by a vote of 78-17. This vote caps off what has been a relatively easy road to Burwell’s confirmation. Burwell, currently the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has garnered bipartisan support for her nomination; 24 Republicans voted in favor of Burwell’s confirmation. Burwell replaces Kathleen Sebelius, who headed HHS during the turbulent roll out of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) federal health care exchange. To read a New York Times article about Burwell’s confirmation, click here.
Integrated Health Care Technology by 2024?—The HHS Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”), in a policy paper released last week, is calling for integrated health care information technology in the next ten years, hoping to advance interoperability between different technologies and platforms. The policy paper states that: “Individuals should be able to securely share electronic health information with care providers and make use of the information to support their own health and wellness through informed shared decision-making.” Moreover, the ONC believes that an “interoperable health IT ecosystem should support critical public health functions such as real-time disease surveillance and disaster response, and data aggregation for research and value-based payment that rewards higher quality care, not necessarily a higher quantity of care.” To read the policy paper, click here.
Medtronic to Pay $9.9 Million to Settle Pacemaker Kickback Case—The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that Medtronic has agreed to pay $9.9 million to settle allegations that the company induced physicians to use its products, like pacemakers and defibrillators, by giving the physicians kickbacks, such as sports tickets and honoraria to speak at events. In announcing the settlement, Special Agent Ivan Negroni of the HHS stated, “As this settlement indicates, health care executives who try to boost profits by paying kickbacks to doctors will instead pay the government for their improper conduct.” To read the DOJ press release, click here.
Allergan Inc. Accused of Illegal Kickbacks for Eye Care Products—Two ophthalmologists have accused Allergan Inc. (“Allergan”) of providing illegal kickbacks as an incentive to ophthalmologists and optometrists to prescribe more Allergan eye care products. According to the complaint, the illegal kickbacks to ophthalmologists and optometrists include free expert business advisory and consulting services and membership in a speaker’s bureau for those who write a large amount of prescriptions. Allergan claims that providing such information is free speech and protected by the First Amendment. The government has decided not to intervene in the case, but in response to Allergan’s claim, the government has stated the following: “Allergan invites the Court to construe the [anti-kickback statute] to exclude activities comprising speech from its reach. No other court has so narrowly constructed the [anti-kickback statute] in nearly forty years since the enactment of the statute, and this Court should refuse to do so now.” You can read the complaint here and the government’s response here.