Heart pump maker Abiomed settles U.S. case over lavish doctor meals

BOSTON (Reuters) - Abiomed Inc has agreed to pay $3.1 million to resolve a U.S. probe into allegations that it sought to get doctors to use a line of heart pumps it produced by buying them lavish meals at some of the most expensive restaurants in the United States.

The civil settlement was announced on Thursday by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Massachusetts and resolves allegations first raised in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former Abiomed employee.

Danvers, Massachusetts-based Abiomed said in a statement that it was putting behind it an investigation that began four years ago, as it sought to focus on its heart recovery mission.

According to the settlement agreement, the government alleged that Abiomed from 2012 to 2015 sought to get physicians to use its Impella line of heart pumps by paying for their meals at expensive restaurants.

Those restaurants included Eleven Madison Park in New York, Nobu in Los Angeles, Spago in Beverly Hills, California; and Menton in Boston, Lelling's office said.

Abiomed paid for alcohol at times in amounts inconsistent with legitimate scientific discussion and covered meals attended by the physicians' spouses, the government alleged.

The cost of numerous meals exceeded Abiomed's own $150 per person guideline and in one instance cost over $450 per person, according to the settlement agreement.

The government contended those meals led to the submission of false claims for payment for Impella heart pumps by Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled. The pumps cost more than $20,000 each, Lelling's office said.

"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," Lelling said in a statement.

The settlement stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2013 under the False Claims Act by a former employee of Abiomed, Max Bennett.

The False Claims Act allows whistleblowers to sue companies on the government's behalf to recover taxpayer money paid out based on fraudulent claims. The government can intervene in the lawsuits, which is typically a major boost to such cases.

If successful, whistleblowers receive a percentage of the recovery. In this case, Bennett will receive $542,500, according to the settlement agreement.

The case is U.S. ex rel. Bennett v. Abiomed Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 13-12277.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)

03/08/2018 14:01

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