On November 16, 2020, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG) took the rare step of issuing a Special Fraud Alert
regarding physician speaker programs. The Alert warned that such speaker programs may run afoul of federal anti-kickback laws, particularly if certain “suspect characteristics” are present in the program.
These “suspect characteristics” include programs that: lack substantive information presented; provide alcohol or meals of more than modest value; take place at restaurant or entertainment venues; are part of a large number of programs sponsored by the company on the same topic; are on topics that have been without any new medical or scientific information for a significant period of time; have repeat attenders or attendance by friends, family or others with no legitimate business reason to attend; involve sales or marketing personnel in the selection of speakers; and involve payment to the speaker that exceeds fair market value or takes into consideration the volume of business generated by the speaker.
Special Fraud Alerts are used by the agency as a way of notifying the industry that it has become aware of certain abusive practices that it plans to pursue enforcement action upon, as appropriate. As some perspective, the last alert was released in June 2014 with only four such special alerts being issued in the last decade.