Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s newly announced running mate received more than $14,000 in consulting and speaking fees from a pharmaceutical company shortly before it was hit with the largest health care fine in U.S. history.State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a physician, was paid $14,240 by GlaxoSmithKline between 2009 and 2011 before the British pharmaceutical giant was fined $3 billion for pushing dangerous drugs by scheming to hide unhelpful scientific evidence and lavishing doctors with gifts.
Bevin announced on Jan. 25 that Alvarado would replace Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton as his running mate in the November election.
Alvarado’s medical career was already under scrutiny after the the Courier Journal reported Wednesday that he was among the 24 doctors who allegedly took “illicit” gifts to refer Medicare patients to a home-health company.
The newspaper reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed evidence that Nurses Registry and Home Health Corp. gave Alvarado $12,000 in campaign contributions, tickets to a University of Kentucky basketball and other gifts.
Prosecutors said Alvarado, who was not a defendant in the case, referred 457 patients to Nurses Registry, which in turn received more than $1.1 million in Medicare reimbursements. In 2010, he made 161 referrals, netting the company $444,013 from Medicare.
The payments from GlaxoSmithKline were reported in a ProPublica database of payments from the medical industry to physicians.
The database showed that, in 2009, Alvarado received $2,000 for “consulting” from GlaxoSmithKline and another $7,000 for speaking. In 2010 and 2011, he received a combined $5,240 in speaking fees.
In 2012, the company reached a $3 billion deal with the Justice Department to settle civil and criminal charges that it promoted Paxil for treating depression in adolescents, Avanida for treating cardiovascular issues, and Wellbutrin for weight loss and treating sexual dysfunction, though the Food and Drug Administration never approved any of those uses.
It also published misleading medical journal articles and withheld inconvenient data about the effectiveness of its drugs.
The Justice Department also said GlaxoSmithKline plied doctors with cash for speaking engagements and trips to conferences where the drugs were promoted.
While the crimes were committed before Alvarado worked for the company, the investigation was public knowledge as early as 2008, when The Wall Street Journal reported the scope of the probe was widening.
Documents released at that time prompted U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, then the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, to demand an FDA review of Paxil’s approval, The Journal reported.