How so? Well, a federal grand jury in Boston is investigating Millennium Laboratories, which sells urine drug testing services to pain clinics across the US, for health fraud, according to a nicely done piece by Reuters. And the lab is also being investigated by the US Department of Justice for intimidating former employees, including one who was portrayed in a slideshow at a company meeting as a corpse in a body bag, the news service writes.
Two former employees, who raised concerns about Millennium sales practices, also say they were followed for weeks by private investigators they believe were hired by the lab, Reuters writes. No criminal charges have been filed, however, and Millenium ceo Howard Appel tells Reuters that the privately held company did nothing wrong and is cooperating with a Justice Department subpoena. He also suggested the feds are probing his rivals.
At issue is the bruising competition among labs. In separate interviews, four witnesses described their grand jury testimony to Reuters, which reviewed copies of grand jury subpoenas seeking records on Millennium. All four testified that Millennium succeeded in getting doctors to order unnecessary urine tests and then charge excessive fees to Medicare and private insurers. Millennium has denied those accusations in civil lawsuits brought by rivals.
The witnesses said Millennium used aggressive pitches to pain clinics to order various urine tests even when they were not needed, at up to $1,600 a test. For instance, labs say urine tests can show whether someone is taking extra pain drugs, (although a loyal reader notes this is not so because drugs can be metabolized at different rates). One lawsuit, filed by a rival, alleged Millenium encouraged doctors to screen for as many drugs as possible, rather than conduct screening based on individual needs, and then bill payers for larger reimbursement.
Urine testing has rocketed as the number of prescriptions for pain drugs in the US rose from 30 million to 180 million a year over the last two decades, Reuters writes. This has also led to two previous prosecutions and numerous lawsuits by labs accusing each other of wrongdoing. In March, for instance, Calloway Laboratories paid $20 million to settle charges by Massachusetts state Medicaid that kickbacks were paid for unnecessary screening.
The story is lengthy, but there are some interesting details. For instance, the picture of a body bag was part of a PowerPoint presentation by Millenium general counsel Martin Price, according to the former employees. He showed that at a national sales meeting in January in which he described Millennium's success against its adversaries, Reuters writes, citing a grand jury witness and former Millennium employee named Jodie Strain.
She told Reuters that grand jurors gasped when the body-bag image was projected onto a wall during her testimony last month and the toe tag identified the corpse as Ed Zicari, a former regional manager Millennium was suing. Both Appel and the US Attorney in Boston declined to comment.
Other slides in the presentation showed the names of rival labs being riddled with bullet holes while gunfire sounded as if they were at a shooting range, according to her affidavit (which you can read here). Strain, a former senior sales rep, told Reuters the talk ended with an ominous warning: The company could not protect people who went "outside the Millennium family... I took it as a complete warning and threat to not only not go to the competition but don't even question Millennium once you were no longer under their protection," she told Reuters.
Shortly after the presentation, Strain said she told Zicari's girlfriend about the slide show because she feared for their safety and was fired the next week, Reuters writes. Zicari and his girlfriend, who is a former Millenium sales rep, were being sued by the lab at the time for allegedly taking confidential information when they left the company, according to Reuters. Both also accused the lab of misconduct and the suit was settled last summer, Reuters adds.
Zicari and Strain are currently pursuing suits against Millennium for wrongful termination and other claims, Reuters continues. Zicari, for instance, charges he was told by a supervisor to bribe doctors to obtain information about competitors, according to Courthouse News Service. Appel described them to Reuters as "disgruntled former employees" who were fired for cause, not for questioning company practices, the news services writes, adding that he described Zicari as "alive and well and living in Texas."
pic thx to cbc