Drug giant Pfizer has been fined another $24 million in a Medicare fraud kickback scheme. It’s a tiny amount for a multi-billion dollar corporation. Ring of Fire’s Mike Papantonio and Farron Cousins discuss this.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             I’m Mike Papantonio back with Farron Cousins on Ring of Fire. Farron of course is the editor of the National Trial Lawyer magazine. Drug giant Pfizer has been fined another $24 million in a Medicare fraud kickback scheme. It’s a tiny amount for, it’s really a tiny amount for a multi-billion dollar corporation, especially in light of the fact that it happens so routinely with this company.

At some point, you go, okay, you’ve been fined a billion dollars, you’ve been fined $300 million. You’ve been fined $500 million. Whatever it is. Pfizer if you list the companies, okay, top of the list of course is Bayer, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Pfizer. It’s like the same five or six companies that for some reason we won’t put them in handcuffs. We just refuse to put them in handcuffs.

This is nothing short of theft, okay? They started the … What they do is they start these foundations. Foundation to improve your kidneys or foundation for kidney disease or foundation for heart disease, and then they get those foundations to run a kickback program through their foundation.

Farron Cousins:                  Yeah because it’s illegal for any drug company to actively get Medicare to try to prescribe their medication. They set up these foundations, and then the foundation, their job is to work with Medicare and work with doctors to, in this instance, only prescribe Pfizer medications for this group of patients with, whether it’s kidney, whether it’s liver. Whatever it is, you’re only going to work with Pfizer. Technically if this were an independent institution, charitable institution, that would be perfectly legal, and that’s also part of the problem here.

Mike Papantonio:             Right. Yeah, it is. It is.

Farron Cousins:                  Because it was a front group for Pfizer and they were funneling money back through, Medicare patients get ripped off. The taxpayers who fund Medicare, we get ripped off.

Mike Papantonio:             Because, here’s why they get ripped off. Because it’s a kickback scheme. It removes competitiveness when they’re going after a drug that will create the same kind of relief for the patient, you see. That’s really where the … In other words, you may have a Pfizer drug and they give a kickback to the foundation and the patient, but even with that kickback, you could buy a cheaper drug that does the same thing. You could buy a generic drug that does the same thing.

These companies, this whole new foundation scheme is huge right now. You know, you got, there’s a foundation virtually for everything and this goes on very, very often. Most of the time, it’s a foundation that’s … They need the money. These foundations really try to do good work. I mean they really try to get out there and do good work, but they got to have the money.

These corporate pigs say, “Well we’re only going to give you the money if you do what we want you to do.” That’s what happens, and there’s nothing benevolent about it. It’s all about can we increase our cash? Can we increase the money flow here?

Farron Cousins:                  $24 million is such, that is nothing. They don’t even notice that $24 million is gone when they have to pay that out because they’ve made hundreds of millions from Medicare and from taxpayers, because again, we’re the ones who pay for that, and there could very easily be a different generic available to this patient.

Mike Papantonio:             Of course.

Farron Cousins:                  But because the doctor can easily write on there no generic substitutes or Medicare can say we’re not going to cover generics. We cover only what the script is written for, those are the rules.

Mike Papantonio:             Or Inappropriate. Inappropriate generic. There’s all kinds of things they can get away with.

Farron Cousins:                  Yeah.

Mike Papantonio:             But it’s a cheaper drug. It does the same thing. Pfizer here had it, oh no. We’re going to give kickbacks so they have to use our drug and that charges more money to Medicare, in effect to taxpayers. This goes on all the time, and the problem is, I don’t know what it takes for the DOJ and for leadership, I mean for the White House sorry. I thought our best hope was Obama, that he was going to understand that we don’t change culture.

You can’t change a cultural train wreck that we have here with these big corporations. You don’t change the way they think by making them pay money. You change the way they think by putting them in prison, and then years later, somebody’s in MBA school and they use this case, they use the story behind this case to teach a class, and they say, “Yeah, half a dozen people actually went to prison for doing this. Don’t do this.”

But we’re unwilling to do that. We want culture to, this criminal culture that exists, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, we want that criminal culture to exist the same way it exists on Wall Street, that criminal culture. So what we do is we perpetuate because we don’t have a Department of Justice that has enough guts to do their job.

Farron Cousins:                  Part of the reason for that is because we end up with these attorney generals like we had under Obama, under Bush, under Clinton, who represented these people and they think, when they get appointed, Obama thought, well Eric Holder knows those guys so he knows how the business works, so he’ll be able to hold them accountable, but that’s never how it works.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.