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Abbott Labs settles with U.S. over kickback claims

(Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay the United States $5.48 million to resolve allegations that it paid improper kickbacks to induce doctors to use some of its products, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday.

The settlement resolves allegations that Abbott paid well-known doctors for teaching assignments, speaking engagements and conferences, expecting that they would arrange for the hospitals with which they were affiliated to buy Abbott's carotid, biliary and peripheral vascular products.

This activity violated the federal Anti-Kickback Act and led to the submission of false Medicare claims, the government said, in a case brought under the federal False Claims Act.

Carotid and peripheral vascular products are implanted to treat circulatory disorders by increasing blood flow, while biliary products are implanted to treat obstructions in the bile ducts, the government said.

"Patients have a right to treatment decisions that are based on their own medical needs, not the personal financial interests of their health care providers," Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery of the Justice Department's civil division said in a statement.

Abbott spokeswoman Angela Duff said the Abbott Park, Illinois-based company is pleased to settle, and did so to avoid the uncertainty and cost of lengthy litigation. "Abbott believes its actions were appropriate at all times," she added.

The Justice Department said the settlement resolves allegations originally brought by former Abbott employees Douglas Gray and Steven Peters. They will receive more than $1 million from the settlement, the department added.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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