I recommend the Wall Street Journal's recent article, "Meet the Serial Whistleblowers," by Peter Loftus, WSJ, July 24, 2014. The article profiles a serial relator, Dr. William LaCorte, who brought 12 qui tam False Claims Act suits against health care companies. Dr. LaCorte's qui tam suits have obtained recoveries in 5 cases (2 are currently pending), including a $250 million payout from Merck. He has earned $38 million from his suits. Essentially, the article uses the example of Dr. LaCorte to illustrate the tension in False Claims Act cases: whistleblowing and protecting the government and taxpayer against fraud versus being motivated by large payouts to bring claims that may not have merit.
Though generally worth the read, I take issue with the article on two major points. First, the article claims that relators do not have a good track record when the government does not intervene. Citing figures from 1988 to 2010, it states that when the government failed to intervene, 94% of all claims brought by relators were dismissed. This high percentage of relator dismissals is not representative of False Claims Act practice today. Though I do not know the exact figures, based on what I have observed and read about the percentage of dismissed non-intervened cases is far less during the last 4 years. There are fewer dismissals in recent years because relator counsel today are generally engaging in better pre-suit investigations and bringing more well-founded qui tam claims. Moreover, whereas relators used to rarely go forward with suits if the government declined to intervene, this is no longer the general practice. Second, the article fails to appreciate just how draconian False Claims Act penalties can be, especially for health care companies, and the role such enormous penalties can have in inducing settlements in health care cases. With penalties ranging between $5,500 to $11,000 for each alleged false claim --each bill-- submitted for payment to Medicare, penalties in health care cases can easily reach into the millions, even billions, thus making heath care defendants far more likely to settle claims of dubious merit.
A. Brian Albritton
July 30, 2014