Walgreen’s pays $50 million to settle kickbacks charges

Walgreen’s has agreed to pay $50 million to settle  a civil fraud lawsuit against it which alleged it  violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) and False Claims Act (“FCA”) by enrolling hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of government healthcare programs (“government beneficiaries”) in its Prescription Savings Club program (“PSC program”). Specifically, the Government’s Complaint alleges that Walgreens violated the AKS and FCA by providing government beneficiaries with discounts and other monetary incentives under the PSC program, in order to induce them to patronize WALGREENS’ pharmacies for all of their prescription drug needs. The Complaint further alleges that WALGREENS understood that allowing government beneficiaries to participate in the PSC program was a violation of the AKS, but that it nevertheless marketed the program to government beneficiaries and paid its employees bonuses for each customer they enrolled in the program, without verifying whether the customers were government beneficiaries. The settlement will also resolve numerous state law civil fraud claims.

Under the settlement, WALGREENS is required to pay approximately $46.21 million to the United States and has admitted and accepted responsibility for conduct alleged in the Government’s Complaint. Further, as part of the settlement, WALGREENS will pay approximately $3.79 million to resolve the state law civil fraud claims. Walgreens admits to having paid bonuses to employees for enrolling customers in its prescriptions savings program without verifying whether the customers were Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries, despite stated company policy against enrolling such beneficiaries based on federal statutes. Today’s settlement is a message to other retailers that there will be consequences for such conduct.”

 

As part of the settlement, WALGREENS admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for the following conduct:

 

  • During the period January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2010, WALGREENS’ published materials regarding the PSC program stated that persons receiving benefits from the Medicare and Medicaid programs were not eligible to participate in the PSC program. 
  • In October 2007, WALGREENS identified approximately 13,000 PSC program members who it had determined were beneficiaries of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and it removed those individuals from the PSC program. In an internal news release informing its employees of this removal, WALGREENS stated that “any customer who ha[d] any type of 3rd party coverage with a Medicare or Medicaid plan was removed from the [Prescription] Savings Club database,” and that “th[is] removal was necessary to comply with State/Federal regulations.” 
  • Subsequent to October 2007 and continuing through December 31, 2010, internal WALGREENS documents reflect that its stated policy to exclude Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from the PSC program was based on, among other things, the prohibition on offering inducements to beneficiaries of government healthcare programs reflected in the federal AKS and corresponding state anti-kickback laws. 
  • Notwithstanding its stated policy to exclude Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from the PSC program, subsequent to October 2007 and continuing through December 31, 2010, WALGREENS enrolled hundreds of thousands of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in the PSC program. 
  • Between November 2007 and December 31, 2010, WALGREENS also enrolled more than 10,000 TRICARE beneficiaries in the PSC program. 
  • Prior to December 31, 2010, pharmacists at WALGREENS’ stores nationwide made tens of thousands of notations in WALGREENS’ internal customer database reflecting that specific Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE beneficiaries had been enrolled in the PSC program and were using the PSC program to purchase some of their prescription drugs. 
  • At various times between November 2007 and December 31, 2010, WALGREENS paid its employees a bonus of between $1 and $5 for each customer they enrolled in the PSC program. When paying these bonuses, WALGREENS did not verify that the customers its employees had enrolled in the PSC program were not government beneficiaries. 
  • Prior to December 31, 2010, WALGREENS did not have effective mechanisms in place to block government beneficiaries from enrolling in the PSC program or to monitor adequately whether government beneficiaries had been allowed to enroll in the PSC program, to ensure compliance with its stated policy to exclude such beneficiaries from the PSC program. As a result, hundreds of thousands of government beneficiaries were enrolled in the PSC program. 
  • Subsequent to December 31, 2010, and continuing through December 31, 2015, WALGREENS’ internal company policy continued to preclude the enrollment of government beneficiaries in the PSC program, and WALGREENS continued to enroll such beneficiaries in the program. 

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers