A federal grand jury in Boston is investigating allegations of health care fraud and employee intimidation against Millennium Laboratories of San Diego, Calif., a company that tests urine samples for the presence of pain medications.
Millennium is one of a few companies in a relatively new industry of selling urine-testing services to pain clinics and doctors throughout the U.S. A growing number of health care providers rely on such services to test patients for painkillers before prescribing new drugs that can have potentially harmful interactions with painkillers the patient may already be taking. The services help health care providers monitor the use and abuse of potent and highly addictive painkilling drugs, which are being dispensed at soaring rates.
Earlier this winter, Reuters interviewed four former Millennium employees who testified before the grand jury. “All four said they testified that Millennium was getting doctors to order unnecessary urine tests and charging excessive fees to Medicare and private insurers,” Reuters reported.
Additionally, the witnesses said that the company’s leadership took some alarming steps to intimidate employees and force their loyalty, including projecting the image of a former Millennium sales manager in a body bag during a national sales meeting and showing competitor logos riddled with bullet holes while audio of gunfire played – tactics that one witness said left the room of 200 people in stunned silence.
The presentation ended with a warning that the company could not protect people who went “outside the Millennium family,” according to Reuters.
“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,” one of the former employees told Reuters.
According to the former sales reps, Millennium used aggressive sales schemes to get pain clinics to order unneeded urine tests at up to $1,600 per test. The witnesses told the grand jury that that the company encouraged doctors to order unnecessary and excessive testing in a number of ways, such as demonstrating with charts how much doctors could boost their income by increasing the number of urine tests they ordered.
“For instance, a $15 payment to test for one drug could balloon to about $800,000 a year if 20 people a day were tested and each urine sample was tested for 11 drugs,” the Reuters report explained.
Two of the same former employees told Reuters that Millennium also violated federal anti-kickback laws, such as giving doctors complimentary boxes of special collection cups valued as much as $6 a cup as a way of soliciting referrals. One employee who objected to the frequency of testing and the free cups told Reuters she was fired after voicing her concerns to the company.