The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a Special Fraud Alert on November 16, warning that speaker programs organized by pharmaceutical and medical device companies pose inherent fraud and abuse risks. OIG is “skeptical about the educational value of such programs” and cautioned that remuneration to referring practitioners for participating in the programs can sometimes be deemed a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS).
The AKS prohibits the offer or receipt of any type of compensation to induce or reward referrals for items or services that are reimbursable by a federal healthcare program (most often, Medicare or Medicaid). According to the Alert, in the past three years drug and device companies paid almost $2 billion to healthcare professionals who participated in speaker programs, including honorariums and free meals for attendees.
Some “speaker deals” for high-prescribing providers that OIG and the U.S. Department of Justice have investigated have provided for six-figure compensation to a provider, far exceeding the fair value of the speaker’s services. In some cases, companies have required physicians to write a minimum number of prescriptions in order to receive the honorarium, or held programs at venues like wineries, sports stadiums and adult entertainment venues that are not conducive to learning. Inviting providers’ friends and family members who have no legitimate reason to attend can also “strongly suggest that one purpose of the remuneration to the [healthcare practitioner] speaker and attendees is to induce or reward referrals,” according to OIG.