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A Political Hatchet Job

Statement from Sam Pond

We wanted to reach out to you in response to the article published on Philly.com and The Inquirer. We are proud of the alliance between attorneys and the medical community that works together to protect our clients from a very strong and determined opponent: the insurance industry.

Because of the increasing regularity with which insurance companies deny our clients' prescription drugs, our firm made the decision to invest in a pharmacy, and while other Workers' Compensation law firms have had such a relationship for over a decade, we alone were targeted – but that is not a coincidence.

This politically motivated article is a direct response to our outspoken advocacy on behalf of injured workers, and to our effectiveness in defeating harmful legislation (such as House Bill 18 in June of this year, and House Bill 1800 last year).

This reporter has never met anyone in our firm. He used cherry-picked information to craft his article - much of it provided by insurance companies. Read the real testimonials of our clients’ experiences with Workers First below. We have nothing to hide, and will always rigorously defend everything we do on behalf of our clients.

When you become a firm of our size, with our exposure and our willingness to fight powerful interests, this comes with the territory. We will continue our alliance with organized labor, our brothers and sisters of the Trial Bar, the medical community that treats our clients, and the pharmacies that fill their prescriptions (even when insurance companies unconscionably and illegally deny payment). I can assure you that we will continue to march on with our heads held high, proud of what we do and what we have dedicated our lives to: fighting for the rights of injured workers!

We thank you for allowing us the honor of representing you.

Kind regards,

Sam Pond


Fact Check

  1. William Bender Cherry Picked Information for His Article, Willfully Ignored Pertinent Facts, and Relied on Information from Biased Sources
    1. Mr. Bender omitted facts from his story that would have conflicted with the dark narrative he tells, including those openly supplied to him from interviews with credible sources.
    2. Mr. Bender omitted the vast majority of his interview with Sam Pond, using only a truncated quote designed to cast him in a negative light.
    3. Mr. Bender declined to speak with a Workers First Pharmacy client when Pond Lehocky offered to put him in touch with any number of our clients utilizing Workers First Pharmacy.
    4. Mr. Bender omitted statements from attorney Abraham Reich, Partner/Chair Emeritus of law firm Fox Rothschild, who he interviewed for this article and then did not quote him. His omission of a credible source whose opinion differed from his own illustrates Mr. Bender’s mission to deliberately control the narrative of his story rather than seeking to tell the truth.
      1. Abe Reich stated: “I spoke with Bender…on Monday. I told him that in my opinion an ownership interest by lawyers in a pharmacy was not a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and in fact permitted under Rule 5.7 as long as certain disclosures were made. The argument that lawyers were acquiring an interest in a client's cause of action because of the ownership interest in a pharmacy was wrong. I asked him (Bill Bender) to call me if he had any issues with what I was telling him and he said he would.”
    5. Mr. Bender misused/misinterpreted quotes from attorney Dan Siegel.
      1. Dan Siegel’s full quote: “Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, payment for medical care and prescription medicine is limited by a fee schedule. For example, regardless of the amount physicians bill, payment to them is based upon a fee schedule updated annually by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The Workers’ Compensation Act specifically states that reimbursement for all prescription medicine, including compound creams, may be no greater than 110 percent of the AWP/average wholesale price. This reimbursement is based upon the Red Book, an accepted source of pharmaceutical pricing designated by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Thus, as with Medicare and most medical plans, the maximum amount a pharmacy is compensated for prescription medicine is capped, regardless of the amount charged. In my experience, insurance companies and other workers’ compensation payors always limit payment to pharmacies to no more than the statutory amount, as they should. In addition, many payors further reduce the payments to physicians, pharmacies and other medical providers, with the expectation that the providers will accept the amounts paid rather than become involved in the lengthy, bureaucratic fee dispute process administered by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Finally, in my experience representing both injured workers and medical providers, it is common practice for medical providers and pharmacies to accept reduced payments for care or medications to avoid the slow, protracted, bureaucratic fee dispute process or risk not being paid at all.”
    6. Mr. Bender quotes Joe Huttemann, Partner at Martin Law, to offer a credible opinion on the ethical implications of attorney-owned pharmacies. While he states Martin Law is a rival firm, he neglects to state that Joe Huttemann was once partners with Sam Pond and Jerry Lehocky at Martin Law, and that all partners experienced an acrimonious split, meaning he is anything but an objective source to quote on the business activities of Pond Lehocky.
    7. Mr. Bender quotes Joe Paduda, Partner of CompPharma, as an authority on ethics, when he is only able to speak on managing pharmacy costs. Mr. Paduda’s motivations are obvious from his website and other available resources about him, which is to cut costs for insurance companies as much as possible. He is clearly not an objective voice to comment on the Pond Lehocky’s business practices.
    8. Mr. Bender quotes Phil Walls, CCO of myMatrixx. He does not reveal the symbiotic relationship CompPharma has with myMatrixx, nor Mr. Walls’ ties to the “California Workers’ Compensation and Risk Conference,” a conference aimed at “cost containment” and similar practices for employers. He is another biased voice Mr. Bender chose to use and portray as an objective voice of reason.
    9. Mr. Bender also quotes attorney Jane Lombard, who restricts her law practice to representing self-insured employers and insurers on workers’ compensation matters against injured workers – another non-objective source.
  2. Workers First Pharmacy is Completely Above Board
    1. Although late to the game, Pond Lehocky, like many other firms, provide a pharmacy service. This is common practice for workers’ compensation law firms and pharmacies, so we are not doing anything different. The reporter has taken something normal and legal and turned it into something that sounds dark and evil.
    2. Pond Lehocky is completely transparent with all clients who choose to use Workers First Pharmacy that the firm has a financial interest in the company.
    3. Workers’ First Pharmacy prescription prices aren’t inflated – much like the speed limit, the rates are set by the state. The cost of all workers’ compensation medical treatments and medical coverage is controlled by law (i.e. a fee schedule). Pursuant to Act 44,  no one can bill more and be paid. The fee schedule is set to 110% of Medicare (view Act 44 here and more government information on PA workers’ compensation medical cost containment here). Therefore, any pharmacy (including CVS or Rite Aid) is paid the same fee for prescriptions.
    4. Mr. Bender states that Workers First Pharmacy grossly inflates prices of pharmaceuticals, which is untrue. Workers First Pharmacy is billing at the rate that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Board has set. Specifically: under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, payment for medical care and prescription medicine is limited by a fee schedule, regardless of the amount of a physician’s bill. Payment is based upon a fee schedule updated annually by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The Workers’ Compensation Act specifically states that reimbursement for all prescription medicine, including compound creams, may be no greater than 110% of the AWP/average wholesale price. This reimbursement is based upon the Red Book, an accepted source of pharmaceutical pricing designated by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Thus, as with Medicare and most medical plans, the maximum amount a pharmacy is compensated for prescription medicine is capped, regardless of the amount charged. 
    5. This is for all medical and pharmaceutical billing, including well-known pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid. Everything Pond Lehocky is doing is not only ethical and legal, but also common practice. Rates are set by the state for everyone.
    6. Mr. Bender shared an email sent from Sam Pond to medical referral partners stating that it “outlined the arrangement,” but all it did was outline the benefits of the pharmacy to injured workers, and ask that doctors consider using it.
    7. Mr. Bender states that there is no evidence that compound analgesic creams are effective at treating pain, which is untrue. Like other medications, the efficacy of “compound creams” is continuously being studied; they are currently being prescribed across thousands of pharmacies as part of first-line pain treatment to minimize risk of abuse/ addiction and increase medication adherence.
    8. Furthermore, creams are better for pain than opioids because they don’t come with the risk of abuse, nor with the side effects of medications taken orally (which all oral medications have side effects), so they are favored for prescribing to clients for this reason.
    9. There are not ethical implications of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano’s interest in Workers First Pharmacy. Mr. Bender interviewed expert ethics attorneys who disagreed with his conclusion, and put forth that any perceived conflict is waivable, and that an ownership interest by lawyers in a pharmacy was not a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and in fact permitted under Rule 5.7 as long as certain disclosures were made. The argument that Mr. Bender, and the sources he uses to support his opinion, put forth about lawyers acquiring an interest in a client's cause of action because of the ownership interest in a pharmacy is incorrect.
    10. Mr. Bender makes points completely irrelevant to Pond Lehocky or Workers First Pharmacy, including that “Expensive compounded pain creams have played a role in several high-profile criminal cases,” and that “Federal prosecutors broke up a $175 million prescription-cream scamin Florida.”
    11. Mr. Bender also makes an irrelevant point about the removal of pharmacy signage from Workers First Pharmacy office windows in Conshohocken. It is standard procedure for mail-order pharmacies to not have signs on their offices to not only avoid confusion from patients showing up at the door thinking it is a retail pharmacy, but also to avoid potential burglary from addicts wanting to obtain drugs (a risk all pharmacies have).
  3. Workers First Pharmacy is Good for Our Clients
    1. Pond Lehocky decided to become involved in the medical care of clients after witnessing firsthand insurance companies denying payment of medical treatment to injured workers. Because insurance companies frequently don’t pay, Workers First Pharmacy ultimately only collects 60 percent of billable prescriptions. The pharmacy literally eats the remaining 40% in order to protect our clients and assure that they get the medicine they need, no matter what.
    2. Unlike other pharmacies, Workers First Pharmacy provides client’s medications even if they are denied by insurance, or if we lose their case. Even other workers’ compensation mail-order pharmacies (like Injured Workers Pharmacy – see attached letter) don’t provide this service. 30-40% of pharmaceutical care is denied by insurance carriers. Rather than allow this disruption to have potentially catastrophic consequences for our clients, many who rely on their prescriptions to live, Workers First Pharmacy pays for the medicines our clients need, rather than wait for insurance companies to do so.
    3. Workers First Pharmacy actually protects our clients from illegal balance billing practices that other pharmacies engage in, and that clients who are not represented by an attorney likely would not know better than to not pay.

Client Testimonials on Workers First Pharmacy

I couldn't be happier with Workers First Pharmacy. This pharmacy goes out of their way to get the medications out to you on time, and are willing to explain in full detail your prescriptions. Thank You Workers First Pharmacy for making life a lot less stressful. Thank you Pond Lehocky for all you do.

Scott McCarron, A client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

I am writing in regards to my experience with Workers First Pharmacy. I am extremely pleased with the service I received from Workers First; they were very knowledgeable and helpful, and provided very fast and easy prescription services. I would highly recommend Workers First and Pond & Lehocky to everyone!!

Stephanie McGraw, a client of Associate Stephen Miller

Without Workers First, I would have never received my meds. It’s a service I need and will continue to need.

Jemeela Paoline, a client of Associate Kevin Harchar

Workers First Pharmacy has been a great benefit for me during the time of my injury. They filled my prescription without any problem and no delay compared to other pharmacies like CVS, and Freedom Pharmacy. Please accept this letter as my sincere appreciation to Workers First Pharmacy.

Rose Marie Philogene, a client of Associate Chris Fox

I don’t get any medications without approval beforehand. It’s the only pharmacy I ever had that will call to make sure the prescription is accurate and that I need it. They are very reliable, very consistent and very convenient.

Richard Bond, a client of Associate Kevin Harchar

From the day that I began using Workers First, all my headaches dealing with denials from workers’ comp, getting refills in a timely manner, and having access to difficult to find medications ceased. They contact me a week in advance for refills, and if none are left, they contact the doctor to get prescriptions renewed. All deliveries come to my door exactly when they said they would, and the pharmacist is extremely helpful with answering any questions I have regarding the medications. Having suffered from a work injury that has left me with severe poly neuropathy, just being to move with two canes has become a chore. Thank you Workers First for relieving me of any additional burdens in dealing with medications & pharmacies. GREAT JOB!!!

Jonathan Seale, a client of Associate Stephen Miller

First and foremost Workers First Pharmacy has been nothing but a blessing for my family and I. As you know I have been dealing with several medical issues and I have to say Workers First is NOT one of them. Anytime I need a medication or have any questions concerning my medications they are just a phone call away, and within a few days I receive what I need. I see several doctors and when one of them prescribes a new medication or I am due for a refill, they promptly reach out to me. Workers First Pharmacy is willing to step up for the little person when the big chain pharmacies and insurance companies will not. When I needed a medication Workers First reached out and took all the risk to make sure I was taken care of, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Ian Vogt, a client of Associate Chris Cara

I am a long time client of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano and have been enrolled in the Workers First Pharmacy since shortly after its introduction! I have encountered nothing but great service, peace of mind, as well as door‐to‐door service for all my prescription needs. They are very friendly and always available to speak to the customer by phone.

Monica Flood, a client of Associate Chris Fox

I was hurt in 2015 on the job, and my workers’ compensation claim was denied. I was unable to obtain medication, and it was only because of Workers First pharmaceutical company that I was able to get the medication needed in a timely fashion to help me with my pain and recovery.

Verlene King, a client of Associate Andrew Ruder

I would like to state that my experience with Workers First has been phenomenal. They truly care about the patient and have called me several times to let me know my medication has been mailed out and when I would receive it. They are very professional in the manner with which operate. Thank you.

Anthony DiNardo, a client of Associate Chris Fox

I appreciate Workers First Pharmacy for caring about my wellbeing. If not for their assistance I wouldn't have been able to obtain both my mediations. Thank you.

Tyrone Davis, a client of Associate Kevin Harchar

I have been very satisfied with the delivery service from Workers' First Pharmacy. I receive a call from one of their representatives to let me know that their records indicate I am due for a refill on my scripts. They will ask me if I want them to refill the script and send it to me. I usually have the script delivered to my home within two days. My scripts are always packaged well and delivered in a timely manner. Workers' First representatives are always courteous and helpful. I must say that I've had a very positive experience with Workers' First Pharmacy.

Judy Pickett Tucci, a client of Associate Chris Cara

I am so grateful that Workers First Pharmacy was there for me. I had a fall and fractured my arm, and was in so much pain that I really needed help with my prescriptions at the time. I was out of work and didn't have money to pay for my prescriptions, and they helped me so I could feel more comfortable. Thank you to Workers Pharmacy for being there for people who are really in need of help. Thank you!

Sybil Bell, a client of Associate Andrew Ruder

Workers' compensation is a tough process. Stress, anxiety, etc. is an understatement. Pond Lehocky and their team have helped me beyond words. Having to wait days to even hear if a script would be approved while in daily pain, and being a young mother and wife, was horrible. Once I began working with Sam and his team and was introduced to Workers First Pharmacy, it made things less stressful. I no longer have to wait days and days to even hear if my medication is approved or not; instead my medication comes on time, right to my door. The directions are always clear, and they work with my physicians so I do not have to deal with the stress of refills or what not. 

Sarah Jaskowiak, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

I have been using Workers First Pharmacy. I have had no issues with them, and my medications always arrived on time.

Chris Whitmer, a client of Associate Ryan Scanlon

Being a customer with Workers First Pharmacy has been a positive experience. I found them to be professional and efficient. 

Brenda Lewis, a client of Associate Ryan Scanlon

I'm sending this email to share my personal view of the Workers First Pharmacy service. The pharmacy is very informative of any and all medications. They're courteous over the phone in assuring the patient their needs are being met. They offer delivery service at your door for clients that are physically not able to go to their local pharmacy due to injury. This service was a Godsend for me.

Gina Hopkins, a client of Associate Chris Cara

I believe the article in the newspaper on September 22, 2017 is totally false in so many ways. First and foremost, when you are injured and trying to get better, the last thing you want to do is fight with the insurance company to get your medication. Every time I went to the local drugstore, it took an act of Congress to get my subscription filled. Another benefit of Workers First Pharmacy is after surgery (I had 16) when I could not get out, my medication came right to my door. Without this kind of service, I would have to wait in line for my medication and consistently be denied. Thanks to Pond Lehocky, my pain is under control and my medicine is in time and at my door in my time of need.

Phil Consalvo, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

I have been on workers' compensation for over 8 years. In that time my medication has never changed, but every month, I had to get authorization for these same prescriptions. These authorizations take days, not minutes. Many months I was without medication due to these authorizations. If I was just starting to get these medications, I could understand these delays. But 8 years of the same delays is just hard to understand. Since changing over to Workers First Pharmacy, I have no problems. They call you a week before your medications are due and tell you what day they will be delivered to your doorstep. No authorizations to delay your medications and no chance of missing a few days without your medications. And if you have no refills left, they call your doctor and get your refills taken care of. This is the best service that I could have asked for. All you have to do is take your medication and Workers First Pharmacy does the rest. Thank you.

Terry Fitzpatrick, a client of Partner Jerry Lehocky

This pharmacy is more beneficial for me than using my local pharmacy. When my scripts were being written and dropped at my local Rite Aid, they would have trouble getting the script filled, leaving me to wait for days. They also had trouble with authorization. Also half the time I would pick up scripts, they would charge the wrong insurance card. I get the scripts I need on time and with the convenience of delivery right to my home. I never have to wait and they know who I am and what correct scripts I should be getting. The proper insurance is always billed correctly. This pharmacy is better in every way.

Thomas Rogers, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

My experience with Workers First Pharmacy was great. My prescriptions were filled on time and they were delivered quickly. 

Jason Paul, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

Workers First Pharmacy is a 5-star service in my 1-star life. The service of receiving my medication is painless. My doctor gives all my prescriptions along with all my refills to the pharmacy. Then I received a confirmation phone call when my medications will be delivered. They are always very polite and patient on the phone. I highly recommend.

Hector Maldonado, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

I am so pleased to express how much I appreciate Workers First Pharmacy. They went above and beyond helping me with all my worries and medication needs. I have never heard of a pharmacy making follow up calls. It was most appreciated at a painful time. I never had to worry about phoning for refills and all my medications were delivered to my home. What a relief that was to me. This is how a pharmacy should be. Bless all those caring people at Workers First Pharmacy. 

Eileen Westermann, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

Getting my medications through Workers First has been a pleasure compared to the difficulties I have experienced with local pharmacies. In the past, I went to several places that refused to fill my prescriptions. Using Workers First is stress free. I sent scripts through the mail, and within a couple of days, they were delivered to my home. Staff is also very helpful with any questions, and return calls in a timely manner.

Courtney Cannon, a client of Managing Partner Sam Pond

Letter from Fran

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Francis Elliott 
Date: Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 7:09 PM
Subject: Francis Elliott - Remove my Section from your story both print and online
To: "Bender, William" <benderw@phillynews.com>, Jneff@phillynews.com, chepp@phillynews.com, Gescobar@phillynews.com

 

Bill, I want to understand why you would disgrace me in your article. Why did you use me? Omit some of my answers misquote me. WHY? I called your desk phone and got no answer. I did send you a sarcastic text because I was stunned on Friday.

 

I took the time to come meet you in town with the assumption from your colleague that you were doing a story on House Bill 18. Our conversation was not about House Bill 18. It was about Doctors owning pharmacies independently and specifically Pond Lehockey owning a pharmacy. Why didn't you write anything I did say about this conversation?. Maybe,That Pond Lehockey was looking out for the client. Allowing them to get their medications on the day needed so that the Insurance company doesn't become an issue by denying the script In fact I made a Bet with you...That more Law Firms will own Pharmacies now that Pond Lehockey does. Also, I told you at that meeting that I knew they owned the pharmacy because, we talked about a brochure.

 

 You wrote...

 “The new medicine seemed to work at first“, Elliott said, but now it doesn’t do anything. “You get relaxed“, he said. “But it doesn’t last long.”

 

THIS IS AFTER 6 MONTHS OF USING IT. I TOLD YOU SPECIFICALLY…BY ITSELF I DON’T GET RELIEF ANYMORE THAT IS WHY I MIX IT WITH OVER THE COUNTER LIDOCAINE AND THAT WORKS GREAT. In Fact you asked me why do I buy it myself over the counter...

 

It was after using it 6-8 times a day for 5 months by itself that it lost its effect so I mixed with over the counter lidocaine and it works great again

 

You wrote...

 Elliott, after doing some research and learning from a reporter that doctors co-own the pharmacy, is concerned that he is drawn into a moneymaking scheme. He said he didn’t know that Pond Lehockey owned the pharmacy or that doctors were getting a cut. “I don’t want to be a part of something unethical,”

 

 This was the lowest... You told me my Doctor Purewals Brother was involved in a group that owns a pharmacy. I asked if that was legal in New Jersey You said, you didn't know. I asked if that was the place on the news that the girl got killed because the medication was approved that shouldn't have been because the name sounds the same. You said, NO... I said that is Unethical .

 

I demand that you remove ALL of my sections anything with or pertaining to my name, quote or reference. Bill, I will meet with you and your editors If you want. But, words I say are not going to fall off the page next time.

 

I would appreciate a confirmation you have received this urgent request.

 

Francis Elliott

 


Philadelphia Inquirer Advertising Tactics

"A Philadelphia attorney said he got an ad sales pitch from the Philadelphia Inquirer suggesting he could get clients fleeing another law firm that was the subject of an investigative story in the paper just days before."

Read the full story on newsworks.org

 

From: "Specter, Shanin" 
Date: September 26, 2017 at 8:49:00 AM PDT
To: Bill Marimow <Bmarimow@phillynews.com>
Subject: Fwd: Inquirer solicitation

 

Dear Bill:

We received the below message from Mr. Mike Agliardi, an Inquirer advertising salesperson this morning.

I called Mr. Agluardi and spoke to him to clarify what he was suggesting. He told me that he wanted to know whether we wanted to try to get clients by advertising in the Inquirer that had been Pond Lehocky clients but would be looking to go elsewhere in light of the Inquirer "expose." I asked him whether his boss was aware of this pitch and he said yes. He identified his boss as Bill Barlow.

I told Mr. Agliardi that his pitch is deeply offensive and vulterous.  I asked him whether he would discontinue it. He said he was sorry that I was offended. He did not say he would discontinue the pitch.

I know Pond Lehocky and I do business with them.   I send them worker's compensation clients, because I know them to be the very best at what they do.  I know them to be civic-minded and generous citizens of our community and to be scrupulously honest and ethical.  I also believe your paper's story to be deeply flawed.  Perhaps these facts deepen my negative reaction to this sales pitch. 

 

But regardless of my relationship with Pond Lehocky, this sales pitch is objectively wrong.  And it is not just vulturous.  

 

It also appears to be a conflict of interest, as the newspaper is pairing what it wants its readership to believe to be hard news with a sales pitch for advertising that is sustained solely by the import of the story.  This suggests that the paper is incentivized to harm a business through their news coverage so they can then pitch and catch advertising revenue through the disruption they've caused.  I doubt the Inquirer would do that, but the appearance of a conflict of interest is there nonetheless. 

 

Obviously, you are in the business of selling newspapers – – and advertising too -- but this sales pitch goes too far. 

 

I would be grateful if you would pass this note along to the appropriate people at the newspaper.  I respectfully request that you discontinue this sales pitch and advise me accordingly.

Best personal regards.

 

Shanin 



Begin forwarded message:

 

From: "Zausner, Robert"
Date: September 26, 2017 at 7:55:56 AM PDT
To: "Specter, Shanin"
Cc: "Kline, Thomas R."
Subject: Inquirer solicitation

 

I thought this was interesting. Actually, perturbing. The Inquirer is using its Pond-Lehocky article to sell advertising. I don’t know if they’re calling everyone or mainly targeting law firms. If the latter, it seems to border on extortion. (“Advertise with us, or you could be next” – I know that’s farfetched, but to my ear it has that ring a little bit.)

 

Here’s the message the salesman left me:

 

Good afternoon, this is Mike Agliardi (sp?) with The Inquirer and Philly.com. How are you? In light of the recent negative press that we’ve been … or expose, however you want to talk about it … regarding Pond Lehocky, was hoping to get some information to you regarding advertising and marketing on philly.com and The Inquirer and how we can target the folks you’re looking for. Give me a call at 215-854-5122215-854-5122. Thanks so much, all the best.

 


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