Pfizer Inc. agreed in September to a whopping $2.3 billion settlement, the largest fine the Justice Department has ever issued for health care fraud. The settlement resolves a series of charges stemming from the misbranding of several drugs by the pharma giant and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc.
The companies had illegally promoted several drugs for off-label use, including Bextra, an anti-inflammatory; Geodon, an anti-psychotic; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug.
"The size and seriousness of this resolution, including the huge criminal fine of $1.3 billion, reflect the seriousness and scope of Pfizer's crimes," acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks said in the settlement announcement. "Pfizer violated the law over an extensive time period. [This] enormous fine demonstrates that such blatant and continued disregard of the law will not be tolerated."
The size of the company and the revenues at stake in the industry are also significant considerations. Prosecutors aren't out to put corporations out of business, but they do want to get their message across.
It's a stunning example of the potential of the False Claims Act to reveal corporate fraud. While the numbers are extreme, they come in the context of an industry that has been known to blacklist troublemakers. (Kopchinski, after being fired, went to work in the insurance industry.)
"The whistleblower law does what it was designed to do," Barket says. "The potential awards are sometimes 20 times what the individual could hope to make from their employment in a lifetime."