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Drugmaker charged with paying kickbacks to sell more Humira

Written by Diane Archer

Humira is one of the top-selling drugs in the US. But, it may be in part because its drugmaker, AbbVie, has paid kickbacks to doctors and nurses to sell more Humira. The California insurance commissioner has filed a lawsuit alleging that AbbVie engaged in a range of illegal activities to promote the sale of Humira, which cost the state $1.2 billion.

To get doctors to write more prescriptions for Humira, a drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis, the California insurance commissioner claims that AbbVie paid doctors cash and gave them gifts and patient referrals. According to the commissioner, AbbVie also hired nurse “ambassadors,” who claimed to be patient advocates, to make sure patients were taking the Humira their doctors prescribed and refilling their prescriptions. These same nurses also made visits to doctors’ offices with Humira sales reps.

Over a five-year period, commercial insurers paid 274,000 claims for Humira prescriptions. And, the price for Humira is high in part because AbbVie has been able to get new patents approved for the prescription drug and extend its monopoly pricing power; it has 247 patent applications for this drug alone. So, Humira’s price has more than doubled (increasing 144 percent) in six years.

AbbVie denies any wrongdoing, claiming that it was simply helping patients, providing “support services,” to them. It claims no interference between patients and health care providers. However, the lawsuit alleges that these nurses placed themselves between patients and their doctors, with a responsibility of keeping patients on Humira and reporting complaints to AbbVie, not the patients’ doctors.

AbbVie contends that it provided professional services to help doctors with insurance processing, prior authorization, and more, in order to save them time and money. It also takes the position that several of the allegations in the lawsuit included proprietary information that should not be publicly disclosed so that, for now, the lawsuit has been substantially redacted.

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