California, Other States Sue Drugmaker Amgen Over Alleged Kickbacks
On Friday, California and 14 other states filed a lawsuit alleging that the Thousand Oaks-based drugmaker Amgen offered illegal physician incentives to boost sales of its anemia drug Aranesp, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The states filed the suit in a federal court in Massachusetts on behalf of their Medicaid programs and state interests.
The plaintiffs are seeking triple damages and civil penalties, which could amount to $10,000 per violation for some states (Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times, 10/31).
Billing for Overfills
The lawsuit claims that Amgen encouraged physicians to bill Medicaid and other third-party payers for excess Aranesp that the health care providers received at no cost.
The physicians received the extra Aranesp because Amgen consistently overfilled vials of the medication by up to 19%, according to the plaintiffs.
The suit cites CMS data suggesting that state Medicaid programs paid physicians more than $371 million for Aranesp retail pharmacy claims between 2001 and 2007. It claims that Medicaid programs have paid millions of dollars more for physician-administered Aranesp.
The suit also contends that Medicare paid more than $5 billion in Aranesp claims between 2003 and 2008 (Bruce, Ventura County Star, 10/30).
The lawsuit also targets the drug wholesaler ASD Healthcare and the drug purchasing organization International Nephrology Network.
The plaintiffs claim that Amgen conspired with the two pharmaceutical groups to offer illegal kickbacks to physicians who prescribed or purchased Aranesp.
The kickbacks included consulting agreements, weekend retreats and other rewards, according to the suit.
The legal action against Amgen comes amid growing concerns about the safety of anemia drugs such as Aranesp.
A slew of recent studies have found that high doses of such drugs can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and tumor growth in some patients (Los Angeles Times, 10/31).
In addition, a study released Friday suggests that Aranesp nearly doubles the risk of stroke among people with diabetes and chronic kidney problems who do not yet require dialysis (Marchione, AP/Seattle Times, 10/31).
Drug Company Response
Amgen said it believes the lawsuit is "without merit" and plans to examine the matter further in court.
The parent company of the two other defendants also denied the allegations and said it intends to cooperate with government officials (Los Angeles Times, 10/31).
Broadcast CoverageOn Friday, KPCC's "KPCC News" also reported on Amgen's alleged kickbacks (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 10/30). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.