Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2011
By Duke Helfand and Marc Lifsher
Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb bribed thousands of California doctors and pharmacists to promote its drugs, using illegal kickbacks, lavish gifts and “happy hours” with the Los Angeles Lakers to expand its market share in the state, state officials said.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced Friday that his office had joined a previously sealed whistleblower lawsuit against the company, calling it the largest health insurance fraud case ever pursued by a California state agency.
Two of the three whistleblowers in the case are former Lakers player Lucius Allen and his wife, Eve, who worked for the drug company as employees and provided access to the basketball team, whose players participated in “Lakers Dream Camps” set up by the drug company for doctors and their family members, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit was filed in 2007 but was sealed until the state joined the case recently.
New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb issued a statement: “Bristol-Myers Squibb believes this lawsuit has no merit and the company will defend itself vigorously.”
The case is the latest major legal action against Bristol-Myers Squibb over allegations of fraud. The pharmaceutical giant paid $515 million in 2007 to settle allegations by the federal government and other states that it used a kickback scheme to defraud the Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs, officials said.
The California lawsuit alleges that Bristol-Myers Squibb targeted the private insurance industry, making thousands of payments to “high prescribing doctors” who wrote prescriptions for its well-known drugs, including Plavix, Abilify and Pravachol.
Jones said that insurance companies in California had spent more than $3.5 billion to cover the costs of the drugs Bristol-Myers Squibb sought to promote through its kickback scheme.
“We need to be sure that doctors are prescribing drugs because those drugs are best for their patients and not because a pharmaceutical company provided doctors with trips and kickbacks,” Jones said. “These illegal practices drive up the cost of health insurance for millions of Californians.”