State sues drug maker over kickbacks

Leslie Hanson
September 21, 2018

AbbVie was sued by the California Department of Insurance for allegedly orchestrating a wide-ranging kickback scheme to illegally boost prescriptions of its best-selling arthritis drug Humira, according to aSTAT news report. It's global sales topped $18 billion U.S. in 2017. Its data show sales tripling from $4.5 billion in 2012 to more than $13.6 billion past year (other reports go as high as $18.4 billion) for the heavily advertised medication.

The lawsuit centers on AbbVie's use of a network of registered nurses, called Ambassadors, who visited patients in their homes.

California's insurance commissioner on Tuesday sued AbbVie alleging a kickback scheme created to convince doctors to prescribe the biopharma's top-selling biologic drug Humira over competing medicines.

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".

Nurses were also involved in the scheme, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, AbbVie footed the bill for physicians' meals, drinks and travel, all in an effort to induce them to write more Humira prescriptions.

"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.


Adelle Infante, a spokeswoman for the North Chicago-based drugmaker, said Jones' allegations "are without merit" and that the company obeys applicable state and federal laws. These nurses trained patients on administering their subcutaneous injections and provided patient care, paperwork help, and other services, all of which alleviated burdens on prescribers' practices in exchange for selecting Humira from a range of available treatments.

At least one nurse disagrees.

The lawsuit started out as a whistleblower case filed by Lazaro Suarez, a nurse who worked as a company ambassador in Florida in 2013 and 2014. "Suarez trained nurses who visited Humira patients around the USA, although these nurses also accompanied AbbVie sales reps on visits to physician offices", reports Ed Silverman for Stat. If proven to be true it would be the biggest case of insurance fraud in the history of the California Department of Insurance.

The lawsuit asks for financial compensation in triple the amount of any fraudulent insurance claims and for an injunction stopping the alleged practices. "The patent on the active ingredient for Humira expired in 2016".

"Critics have accused AbbVie of seeking an excessive number of patents on trivial improvements to keep competition for Humira off the market, a technique known as "evergreening, ' writesBloomberg " s Robert Langreth".

"A low-priced copy of the medicine will be available in Europe in October, while the US version won't be allowed until 2023, under the terms of a settlement AbbVie reached a year ago with Amgen Inc".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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