The California Department of Insurance has filed a lawsuit against AbbVie for allegedly giving illegal kickbacks to health-care providers to keep prescribing its rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira.
The insurance-fraud complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, claims that private insurers have paid out $1.2bn in Humira-related pharmacy claims.
The lawsuit alleges that the company has been involved in a ‘far-reaching scheme’ that included cash, meals, drinks, gifts, trips and patient referrals, along with free and valuable professional goods and services to physicians.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said: “AbbVie spent millions convincing patients and health care professionals that AbbVie Ambassadors were patient advocates-in fact, the Ambassadors were Humira advocates hired to do one thing, keep patients on a dangerous drug at any cost.”
The AbbVie Ambassadors were said to be the company’s registered nurses sent into help patients prescribed with Humira, representing an extension of their doctor’s office.
Furthermore, the state alleged that the Ambassadors downplayed the drug’s risks. They were also trained to send patient complaints directly to AbbVie instead of the patients’ physicians.
Commenting on the case, AbbVie said: “We believe the allegations are without merit. AbbVie operates in compliance with the many state and federal laws that govern interactions with healthcare providers and patients.”
“AbbVie provides a number of support services for patients, once they are prescribed Humira that both educate and assist patients with their therapy, including nursing support, and these resources are beneficial to patients dealing with a chronic condition. They in no way replace or interfere with interactions between patients and their healthcare providers.”
The allegations of the company’s misconduct were reported by a whistleblower, a registered nurse employed as an Ambassador in Florida.