On April 30, 2018, a federal jury in Boston convicted Dr. Rita Luthra, a gynecologist, of obstructing a criminal healthcare investigation and violating HIPAA’s criminal provisions. The government’s investigation of Dr. Luthra grew out of an earlier investigation into the marketing practices of drug company Warner Chilcott. In 2015, Warner Chilcott agreed to pay $125 million in civil and criminal fines to settle allegations that the company made unfounded marketing claims about the osteoporosis drug Actonel and paid kickbacks to physicians to induce more prescriptions of the osteoporosis drug Atelvia.

While investigating Warner Chilcott, the DOJ became interested in Dr. Luthra as a physician who purportedly received kickbacks from Warner Chilcott. Specifically, the government’s investigation uncovered that Warner Chilcott paid Dr. Luthra roughly $23,500 for speaking fees at medical education events hosted in Dr. Luthra’s own office when the only person in attendance was a sales representative from Warner Chilcott.

During the kickback investigation, the government also discovered that Dr. Luthra provided a Warner Chilcott sales representative with access to patient medical records so that the sales representative could help fill out pre-authorization forms for Warner Chilcott’s drugs. Based on this conduct, the jury found Dr. Luthra guilty of violating HIPAA’s criminal provisions, which make it a crime for a person to, among other things, disclose individually identifiable health information to another person without authorization. The jury also found Dr. Luthra guilty of obstructing a criminal healthcare investigation by giving false information to federal investigators in attempt to conceal her interactions with Warner Chilcott.

Dr. Luthra is still awaiting sentencing and faces up to five years in prison for the obstruction charge and up to one year in prison for the HIPAA violation. In addition to her criminal penalties, Dr. Luthra will face monetary fines and administrative sanctions, such as revocation of her medical license and exclusion from participating in all federal healthcare programs. This case demonstrates that the government continues to direct its resources to scrutinize physicians and their relationships with third parties, such as drug companies. This case also highlights the fact that a government investigation into one issue often leads to additional areas of inquiry.

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent healthcare providers of all types and sizes in connection with a wide variety of matters, including government investigations, audits, litigation, and HIPAA-related issues. For any questions, or if we can assist you in connection with a healthcare regulatory or compliance issue or audit/investigation, please contact us at (404) 262-6505 or sgrubman@cglawfirm.com.