State Dept. of Insurance Joins Kickbacks Lawsuit Against Drug Company
California has joined a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming that Bristol-Myers Squibb bribed physicians to prescribe its drugs, possibly costing insurers millions of dollars, according to a statement by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D), the AP/Fresno Bee reports.
According to Jones, the lawsuit is the largest case of alleged health care fraud ever investigated by the state.
The lawsuit alleges that BMS salespersons provided physicians with expensive meals, luxury suites at Los Angeles Lakers' games and other gifts in exchange for prescribing certain drugs that were billed to private insurers (AP/Fresno Bee, 3/18).
The lawsuit originally was filed in 2007 by a former BMS employee. Former Lakers basketball player Lucius Allen and his wife, Eve -- who worked for BMS and provided access to the team -- alsoÂ are involved inÂ the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that BMS paid approximately 15,000 kickbacks to physicians from 1999 to 2005.
The lawsuit claims that the kickbacks went to physicians who prescribed at a high rate many of its well-known drugs -- such as Abilify, Avapro and Plavix -- that made up more than half of BMS' $19.5 billion in sales last yearÂ (Helfand/Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, 3/19). According to the lawsuit, sales of drugs associated with the kickbacks led California insurers to pay more than $3.5 billion during that time (Carlson, Modern Healthcare, 3/18).
State Seeks Damages
The state Department of Insurance said it will seek heavy penalties for damages to private insurers that ultimately paid for the drugs (Chan, Reuters, 3/18).
Jones said the Department of Insurance is not investigating any criminal wrongdoing but only the lawsuit's civil allegations.
He said, "We need to be sure that doctors are prescribingÂ drugs because those drugs are best for their patients and not because a pharmaceutical company provided doctors with trips and kickbacks."
BMS has vowed to fight the case. The company said in a statement that itÂ "believes this lawsuit has no merit and the company will defend itself vigorously" (Los Angeles Times, 3/19).
For additional coverage of the BMS lawsuit, see today's Capitol Desk post.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.