Four Blues plans to sue Pfizer and its execs re: Off-label med use and illegal kickbacks

Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) and its four Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Texas, Illinois, New Mexico and Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit over the off-label use of three costly drugs against Pfizer Inc., four of its current and former executives and subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc., reports the Courthouse News.

The three drugs at issue are Bextra (an anti-inflammatory), Geodon (an antipsychotic) and Lyrica (an anti-epileptic). HCSC alleges that Pfizer "employed deceptive marketing strategies that involved unlawful (1) off-label marketing; (2) dissemination of misleading information regarding the respective drug's safety and efficacy; and (3) payment of illegal kickbacks to healthcare professionals to induce them to promote and prescribe these drugs," according to the complaint. "This improper conduct caused HCSC to pay for participants' prescriptions for these drugs and often in lieu of paying for cheaper, yet equally effective, drugs." HCSC, whose four Blue plans collectively serve more than 12 million members, is seeking treble damages and punitive damages, including "the amount of at least three month's advertising budget for Pfizer."

"This is a case of an insurance company seeking its money back for medicines that physicians prescribed appropriately using their best medical judgments," Pfizer tells the Dallas Business Journal. "Pfizer denies the allegations brought by the insurer in this case."

Yet in September 2009 Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion to the federal and state governments to settle a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, as well as civil False Claims Act violations, related to the illegal promotion of those three same drugs, notes the Dallas Morning News.

To learn more:
- read this Courthouse News article
- read this Dallas Business Journal article
- read this Dallas Morning News article
- read HCSC's complaint
- read the Department of Justice announcement of the Pfizer settlement
- read the Pfizer settlement agreement

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