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Relator's Attorneys Comment on AtriCure/DOJ Settlement

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 General News J E 4
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, along with co-counsel Grant Morris, announced today that AtriCure, Inc., a medical device company specializing in cardiac surgical ablation systems, has executed a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services for $3.8 million plus interest over a five-year period. Sanford Wittels & Heisler filed that qui tam matter in 2007.

According to the DOJ press release today, this settlement with AtriCure is part of the government's emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover approximately 2.2 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

The qui tam or whistle blower provisions of the False Claims Act permit private citizens, called "relators," to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of proceeds of any settlement or judgment. The relator who filed the case against Atricure will receive a total of $625,000 as the statutory share of the current settlement.

Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, noted today in a DOJ press release that the settlement with Atricure resulted from a coordinated effort by the Justice Department's Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas, the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General, and the FDA Office of Chief Counsel.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler and Grant Morris represent the relator in the case against AtriCure, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The complaint charges that AtriCure violated the Federal False Claims Act by using illegal kickbacks and an off-label marketing campaign to induce physicians and hospitals to perform AtriCure's costly inpatient cardiac surgical ablation procedures over standard, and more effective, outpatient catheter ablation procedures. As a result, the Medicare program has faced substantial increased costs from AtriCure's unnecessary and expensive procedures. "The misuse of medical devices has the potential of exposing patients to dangerous procedures and taxpayers to payment for unwarranted claims against Medicare," said Tim Johnson, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. "This settlement demonstrates the government's commitment to maintaining safe and affordable health care for its citizens."

"AtriCure has done the right thing by settling this case before an onslaught of negative publicity surrounding the DOJ investigation," said David Sanford, co-lead counsel in the matter against AtriCure. Specifically, the complaint alleges that AtriCure enticed hospitals to purchase its products by promoting the spread between Medicare reimbursement for AtriCure's surgical ablation procedure and the relatively low cost to the hospital itself. AtriCure further provided physicians and hospitals with kickbacks, including free equipment; price discounts; free advertising, marketing, and referral services; and extensive training for surgeons performing AtriCure procedures. "This settlement allows us to focus on the remaining two companies under active investigation: Boston Scientific and Medtronic," said Grant Morris, co-lead counsel in the AtriCure qui tam case.

Sanford Wittels & Heisler is a renowned class action and qui tam law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in qui tam, employment discrimination, wage and hour, consumer and complex corporate class action litigation and has represented thousands of individuals in major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents individual clients in employment, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, public accommodations, commercial, medical malpractice, and personal injury matters. Individuals with these claims are encouraged to contact Sanford Wittels & Heisler at (202) 742-7777.

SOURCE Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP
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