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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 
statement said.

   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. 


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