Senator Grassley Shines Spotlight on Whistleblower Protection in the Pharmaceutical Industry and Seeks Data From Drugmakers on Treatment Of Whistleblowers

July 13, 2010 

Great news Whistleblowers! U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, principal sponsor of the 1986 Amendments to the False Claims Act (FCA), co-sponsor of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1986, and lead sponsor of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, and a personal champion of the effort to eradicate Medicare and Medicaid fraud, has brought renewed attention to how the major players in the pharmaceutical industry educate their employees on their rights under the FCA, including the right to be free from retaliation for initiating a false claims lawsuit, and the avenues available for exercising those rights.

Whistleblowers play the central role in ensuring corporate compliance with their ethical and financial obligations to the government and the American public. As false and fraudulent claims in the pharmaceutical industry continue to eat deeper into Medicare and Medicaid funds and threaten to derail health care funding in the U.S., the crucial role of whistleblowers in exposing health care fraud and abuse is receiving renewed attention from Washington. Recent studies indicate that 90% of health care fraud cases are uncovered and prosecuted by whistleblowers, leading to a recovery of over $ 3 billion from false claims lawsuits in the last three years.

Sen.  Grassley, who has long recognized the role of employees in uncovering enormous health care fraud in the pharmaceutical sector, commenced a laudable effort on June the 28th to verify the compliance of 16 major pharmaceutical companies with laws protecting their direct employees and indirect employees (employees of agents and contractors) and other whistleblowers from retaliation for exposing fraud on the government and taxpayers.  Sen. Grassley’s letters to the 16 pharmaceutical companies request updated data on their compliance with the law requiring a written FCA policy and employee training and education on the FCA, including the whistleblower provisions and anti-retaliation protections of the FCA, as well as State civil or criminal laws on exposing health care fraud and protecting the whistleblower.

Sen. Grassley’s efforts are meant to make it easier for individuals with knowledge or evidence of fraud to come forward without risking their career in the process, as well as to ensure that corporate policies have been updated to reflect changes in the law, and truly further the goals of the FCA by educating employees on the FCA and encouraging them to expose health care fraud. According to the senator, “drugmakers have a public responsibility to safeguard the tax dollars that pay for their products,” and to promote “a culture where those who speak up about possible fraud are rewarded rather than retaliated against.”

The 16 pharmaceutical companies targeted by the Senator are:

  • Abb0tt Laboratories
  • AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
  • Amgen Inc.
  • Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
  • Eisai Corporation of North America
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Forest Laboratories, Inc.
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc.
  • Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Novartis P Corporation
  • Pfizer, Inc.
  • Sanofi-Aventis, and
  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, Inc.

They are expected to respond by the 20th of July with specific information on:

  • Changes or updates to corporate policy on educating employees about the FCA
  • Employee education on the whistleblower anti-retaliation provisions of the FCA, including avenues for filing false claim lawsuits
  • Corporate process for handling employee complaints about possible FCA violations
  • Performance of the corporate FCA compliance program in encouraging employees to come forward with allegations of possible FCA violations
  • Corporate policies to ensure fair treatment of employee complaints of possible FCA violations
  • Any complaints of unfair treatment or retaliation made by whistleblowers
  • Any modification of FCA compliance policy in light of the extension of whistleblower protections to contractors and agents.

If you are seeing fraud on the government, contact us by calling 800-377-1812 for strictly confidential advice from experienced counsel, with no fee obligation.

Relevant Links:

Bloomberg News July 1, 2010 report
Press release from Senator Grassley’s office on the letters