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The government has filed a civil fraud lawsuit in Manhattan alleging that the so called educational meetings sponsored by Novartis and paid to physician speakers and sales reps amounted to little more than bribery and kickbacks to doctors. They claim that many of the meetings were held in less than ideal learning environments, such as on fishing boats, sports bars, and the all American restaurant Hooters. They contend that there is no way a doctor could possibly receive an educational lecture about Novartis's drugs in such settings.
As part of the evidence, the lawyers present cases such as a Florida doctor who was given $3,750 for giving five lectures in nine months on the same drug to the same four physicians in attendance. Another doctor was paid $3,127 to give a talk to three people at a steak and wine bar in Des Moines, Iowa. One physician received $500 for giving a talk at the scandalously expensive Nobu in New York to one doctor, two friends, a friend's girlfriend, and a Novartis sales rep.
The prosecutors claim that overall Novartis spent $65 million to pay 38,000 speakers over a nine year period. They say that much of this money is in reality bribes to doctors to prescribe their drugs in exchange for fine dining and drinks.
I suggest to the lawyers that they should probably lighten up. Who's getting ripped off, American patients or Novartis? Novartis is a gigantic pharmaceutical company. Last year their revenue was over $56 billion. Do the attorneys really think the company can bribe enough doctors with only $65 million over nine years to make a difference in the corporate bottom line?
If anybody should be mad at the poor quality of physician "educational programs," it should be Novartis. They are wasting millions of dollars on speakers who are giving talks to only a handful of people at a time. We know some doctors love to make as many presentations as possible to supplement their already substantial income. Maybe Novartis should set a minimum requirement for how many doctors actually show up to a meeting before paying out an honorarium. Right now it doesn't seem like they are getting their money's worth.
On the other hand, perhaps the federal government can once again dictate to us what is an acceptable location for an educational meeting. Remember how they sent the Las Vegas economy into a tailspin when it chastised AIG for holding a corporate meeting there? Multiple conferences were cancelled as a result, worsening the already substantial unemployment in the city. Perhaps we should follow the righteous examples of our politicians instead. They couldn't possibly have any ulterior motives for meetings in exotic locations now, could they?