The 2015 Compliance Year in Review (and Look Forward to the Rest of 2016)

The start of 2016 may be filled with hope for good compliance-related news to come, but before we travel too far forward with our prognostications, let’s take a look back at some of the stories that really struck a chord in 2015. Charge up your flux capacitor everyone, as we travel back a few weeks and months, with this edition of the Compliance News in Review: the Yearly Edition.

In 2015, a full year’s worth of data was submitted to the Open Payments program. Considering the rejection of massive amounts of 2014 data, as well as the registration issues and delays that plagued the first Open Payments data submission period, system users certainly had cause to be concerned about the 2015 period. Happily, CMS made improvements, and the process, while not problem free, was smoother in 2015. The agency improved its validated physician list for manufacturers and its data matching processes, which resulted in fewer records being rejected. The improvements in the registration process seemed to help manufacturers, but did little to improve the physician experience.

CMS announced additional improvements that will hopefully improve users’ experience in 2016, including the removal of limitations around entering special characters in text fields, and improving users’ downloading capabilities.

The life sciences industry certainly pushed the free speech issue with the FDA in 2015. Two companies filed suits against the agency, arguing that they had the right to truthfully promote drugs for off-label uses. In the Amarin suit, the court granted an injunction, and the company is free to promote the drug for use in a wider patient population than the drug was originally approved.

On the heels of that case, Pacira filed suit over the FDA’s insistence that the company was promoting a pain killer for post-surgery pain, an unapproved use.  After the company received a warning letter, stating that drug was only approved for use following a specific type of surgery, Pacira argued that the FDA was illegally trying to narrow the approved use. The company also argued that even if it was promoting the drug for an off-label purpose, it had the right to do so, as long as it was sharing truthful information. The FDA quietly removed the warning letter from its website and eventually settled the case.

After years of chatter, but very little visible action, the Serious Fraud Office entered into its first deferred prosecution agreement with a corporate entity, over violations of the U.K. Bribery Act. Standard Bank was accused of failing to prevent bribery by an allied person. The DPA remains in effect for three years and requires the bank to pay $32.6 million; submit to a review of its anti-bribery policies by an independent reviewer and make any changes recommended by the reviewer; and cooperate with authorities in any other matters that arise from the indictment.

The year was devoid of multi-billion dollar settlements in the industry, but 2015 did see the largest settlement by the OIG under its civil monetary penalty authority. The OIG settled with Sandoz for $12.64 million over allegations the company submitted inaccurate ASP data to the Medicare program. The agency alleged that the company submitted inaccurate data between 2010 and 2012, which “undermined the integrity of the Medicare Part B drug pricing system.”

Any worthwhile year-end retrospective needs to include a look forward. So here are the issues that we think will be hot topics in 2016:

  1. Drug pricing transparency. In 2015, several states proposed laws that would require companies to disclose costs for drugs that run in the thousands of dollars per-dose or course of treatment. This push isn’t likely to go away, considering recent dramatic drug price hikes by companies like Valeant and Turing, which resulted in inquiries by lawmakers in the latter part of the year.
  2. Transparency in Europe. Staying on the transparency theme, we expect physician spend reporting in Europe to be a prominent news story toward the middle of the year. The first round of reporting under the EFPIA Transparency Code is due then, and the first round is sure to be thoroughly dissected and analyzed.
  3. Individual accountability. In September of 2015, the Department of Justice released a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates saying the agency plans to focus on holding individuals accountable in cases of corporate crime. Not exactly earth shattering news, but the DOJ has put it in writing, so they must really, really mean it. Whether the agency brings a case against an individual in 2016 or not, the policy is sure to be widely discussed by federal prosecutors and other agency representatives at conferences throughout the year.

Have a great 2016 everyone! We’ll see you at CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress January 26 and 27.

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