Two Florida pharmacies have agreed to pay the U.S. government $750,000 to settle allegations brought by a whistleblower under the False Claims Act that they overcharged Medicare and Medicaid for generic prescriptions and billed the health care programs for drugs they never dispensed.
Lee Bentley III, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said that Lemon Bay Drugs North Inc. and Brooksville Drugs Inc. provided Medicare and Medicaid patients generic versions of certain medications, but charged the health care programs for the brand-name versions of those drugs.
The settlement also resolves allegations that the pharmacies knowingly submitted false claims by billing the government programs for certain medications they could not have dispensed because they did not have sufficient inventory of those drugs.
Lemon Bay Drugs and Brooksville Drugs are both managed by Tampa-based Benzer Pharmacy Holding LLC, which is owned by Alpesh Patel and is listed among the 200 largest privately held companies in the Tampa Bay area by revenue. Benzer owns and operates more than 50 retail pharmacies specializing in compounding drugs in Florida and six other states.
The allegations against the pharmacies were originally brought in a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery.
The whistleblower, a former pharmacy technician who worked at Lemon Bay Drugs, will receive $142,500 as her share of the recovery.
According to court documents, when the technician discovered that her employer was defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, she “refused to participate in that conduct and advised the management of the company and others in the company that false records” and statements were being provided to Medicare and Medicaid.
According to her complaint, the technician was asked to “sign documents agreeing not to reveal any of the information she had discovered” within days after voicing her concerns to management. She claims Lemon Bay terminated her when she refused to sign.