Drugmaker Paid Drs. to Overprescribe 09/21 06:45
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Pharmaceutical giant AbbVie illegally plied doctors
with cash, gifts and services to prescribe one of the world's best-selling
drugs, Humira, despite its potentially deadly complications, a California
official said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit by the state's insurance commissioner accuses the company of a
far-reaching kickback scheme that led doctors to write more prescriptions for
the drug, tainting their relationship with patients and driving up insurance
costs. It's likely patients were prescribed Humira because of the kickbacks
provided by AbbVie and not because it was the best medication to treat them,
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said on a conference call
announcing the lawsuit.
"Ultimately, AbbVie gambled with the health and safety of thousands of
Californians' lives, including children, by making sure patients continued to
take Humira at any cost, all to protect their profits not the health and
well-being of patients," Jones said.
Humira is an injectable drug that is widely advertised as a treatment for
rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions and comes with a warning
for cancer and serious infections that can turn deadly. It had sales of over
$12 billion in 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Jones said insurance companies paid more than $1.2 billion for Humira for
thousands of California patients between 2013 and August 2018. That figure
makes the lawsuit the largest health care fraud case in the state insurance
department's history, according to Jones' office.
AbbVie, which is facing billions of dollars in penalties, said the
allegations are "without merit."
"AbbVie operates in compliance with the many state and federal laws that
govern interactions with health care providers and patients," the company's
AbbVie paid for doctors' meals, drinks and travel to get them to write more
prescriptions for Humira, according to the lawsuit. The kickback scheme also
included nurses whom the company sent to the homes of patients taking the drug,
the lawsuit says.
The nurses saved doctors money by handling paperwork and other tasks that
normally fall to physicians' offices. They were presented as extensions of the
doctors' offices, but in fact blocked patients from communicating their
concerns about Humira to physicians and downplayed the drug's risks, according
to Jones and the lawsuit.
"If given the choice between two medications, one which comes with free
nurses and administrative staff and another that requires the provider to pay
professional salaries, the provider cannot but help factor the substantial
nursing kickback into their prescribing calculus," the lawsuit says.
AbbVie said nursing help and other support services that it provides educate
and assist patients with their therapy and "in no way replace or interfere with
interactions between patients and their health care providers."
The state's lawsuit is based on allegations by a registered nurse who worked
for AbbVie. The nurse is also a party to the suit.