In an unusual move, the California Insurance Commissioner has intervened, or joined, a whistleblower lawsuit that was filed in 2007 by three former Bristol-Myers Squibb employees, who charged the drugmaker with bribing doctors to prescribe its meds - Abilify, Avapro, Glucophage, Plavix, BuSpar, Pravachol and others. In all, private insurers in the state paid more than $3.5 billion to cover the drugs.
"This sort of fraud has long plagued our health insurance system, leading to billions of dollars annually in added health care costs nationally," Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says in a statement. "Besides the obvious and deplorable ethical violations in such cases, health care fraud also leads to higher premiums for consumers and an unnecessary and unjust increase in health care costs."
The lawsuit was initially filed by former BMS employees - Michael Wilson, who was a sales rep; Lucius Allen, who was a cardiovascular metabolic risk specialist; and Eve Allen, who was an integrated health manager. They alleged the drugmaker instructed its reps to woo docs with expensive meals; theater and concert tickets; honoraria; liquor; gift cards; golf outings; all-expense-paid trips to resorts and samba dances (for Hispanic physicians) to induce them to prescribe more meds. One popular freebie: suites at the Staples Center to watch Los Angeles Laker basketball games, food included.
Another goodie was access to some of the Lakers players, who participated in "Lakers Dream Camps" created by Bristol-Myers for high-prescribing docs and their families, according to the lawsuit. Among the players: Larry Drew, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Jamal Wilkes and Reggie Theus, each of whom was paid $2,000. The drugmaker handed out 155 purple basketball jerseys emblazoned with 'Pravachol,' and more than 100 people attended. Oh yes, there were also autographed basketballs and photos taken with the players (here is the lawsuit).
We should also note that pharmacies were allegedly bribed, as well, so that prescriptions for Bristol-Myers drugs, and not generics, were filled.
pic thx to katerha on flickr