Orthofix Medical Device Exec Awaits Sentencing After Pleading Guilty To Violating Anti-Kickback Law

April 10, 2012

The conviction today of a former vice president of sales of the medical device  company Orthofix  shows the risks that health care providers, medical device, Pharma, and other health care suppliers, and their leaders risk when engaging in consulting arrangements or other dealings that could raise scrutiny as aggressive  under federal or state anti-kickback or other health care laws.  The prosecution and conviction shows the advisability for health care suppliers, providers and their leaders to carefully evaluate proposed consulting and other arrangements between health care providers and health care providers for potential exposures to prosecution under Federal and State Anti-Kickback, STARK and other health care fraud and referral laws.

Thomas P. Guerrieri,  former vice president of sales of medical device company Orthofix, now faces sentencing on July 11 after pleading guilty earlier today (April 10, 2012) to violating the Anti-Kickback statute.  At sentencing, Guerrieri faces up to five years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture.

Federal prosecutors charged that while serving as vice-president of sales at Orthofix, a manufacturer and provider of bone growth stimulator devices, Guerrieri facilitated signing up a surgeon in New York to a “consulting” agreement with the company to induce the surgeon to prescribe the company’s bone growth stimulators. According to federal officials, the company paid the surgeon tens of thousands of dollars when he provided little or no consulting services in return.  Federal officials charged that although the surgeon was supposed to document his services in time sheets provided to the company, the company paid him monthly consulting fees for years even though Guerrieri did not fill out these forms or provide any legitimate consulting services.

Federal officials charged that after the surgeon became concerned about increased government scrutiny of consulting arrangements such as his in 2007, the surgeon, Guerrieri, and a territory manager for the company decided to create and backdate time sheets going back to 2006 to make it seem as though the surgeon filled out these forms contemporaneously and performed legitimate consulting services. In addition, at the surgeon’s request, Guerrieri and the territory manager obtained a letter from the company’s general counsel indicating that the surgeon was compliant under his consulting agreement, which was not true. Federal officials had charged that Guerrieri did these things to induce the surgeon to continue to order bone growth stimulators from the company.

Federal officials also charged that Guerrieri and others executed a scheme to pay Michael Cobb, a RI physician’s assistant, for each bone growth stimulator ordered by Cobb. The surgeon had delegated to Cobb the choice of which stimulator his patients received. For years, the device company paid Cobb $50-$100 for each stimulator that his surgeon prescribed. In Sept. 2008, the device company issued a policy expressly prohibiting any payments to anyone who works for a surgeon that prescribes the company’s products. Guerrieri and others worried that if they could no longer pay Cobb under the new policy, the company might lose Cobb’s business. Thus, Guerrieri, and others, devised a scheme where Cobb continued to be paid for each order, but the payments were made by a vendor of the device company, making it more difficult to trace the paper trail back to the device company. Cobb is also charged with violating the Anti-Kickback law. Cobb’s plea hearing is set for April 19, 2012. The continuing success of these and other federal health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts continue to show the need for health care providers and payers to strengthen their compliance practices and documentation to avoid getting caught in the ever tightening health care fraud dragnet.

Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks

While media attention has focused most heavily on federal fraudulent claims enforcement, the conviction of Guerrieri and the prosecution of Cobb show that federal officials also remain committed to enforcement of the Anti-Kickback and STARK laws. 

 In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws must continuously prepare to defend their conduct against potential audit or enforcement under these  and other federal and state health care fraud laws. 

In light of the heightened enforcement risks, health care providers and others conducting business that may be affected by these laws should exercise care to adopt and administer effective policies to keep up compliance with these and other requirements.  Health care providers and suppliers should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on marketing,  consulting, referral and other business transactions, billing and other regulated conduct.  In addition to constantly reviewing and enforcing policies designed to maintain compliance with these requirements, health care providers and suppliers also should consistently recommunicate and reaffirm their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and take other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress anti-kickback and other prohibited referrals and health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to set up and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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