This week, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a Special Fraud Alert providing insight into speaker programs put on by drug and medical device companies that the OIG considers signs of potential fraud. Generally, these are speaker programs in which a physician is offered an excessive “honorarium” to be a speaker and present a company’s products to other physicians or staff. Likewise, the event attendees enjoy lavish accommodations. While these events may have some legitimate purposes, they can expose the medical device companies, the presenting speaker and the attendees to criminal exposure under the Anti-kickback Statute if one purpose of the event is to induce or reward referrals of patients or items reimbursed under federal health care programs.
Drug and device companies are currently required to report payments they make to physicians, and this information is made publicly available on its Open Payments website here. In the last 3 years, drug and device companies have reported paying nearly $2 billion to physicians for speaker-related services. According to the OIG, the following are some of the suspect indicators of fraud, although the presence or absence of any one of these is not determinative of fraud:
- The program provides alcohol or a meal exceeding modest value.
- The program is held at a location that is not educational in nature like entertainment or sports venues.
- The company sponsors a large number of programs on the same topic.
- Physicians attend programs on the same or similar topics more than once.
- Attendees includes friends or family members of the physicians.
- The companies pay the speakers more than fair market value.