California Joins Whistleblower Lawsuit Against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced last week that California has joined a whistleblower lawsuit against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which alleges that the pharmaceutical giant bribed medical doctors to prescribe its drugs. This is described to be the largest alleged health care fraud case handled by the state to this day and has perhaps cost insurers millions of dollars.

The law suit was originally filed in 2007 by one current and two former employees of the company. The amended complaint, now including California, was filed by state insurance department lawyers in Los Angeles Superior Court two weeks ago. If the former employees and California win, the whistleblowers and the state would share damages.

Allegations claim that Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. salespeople offered physicians many perks, including paid speaking engagements, various gifts and trips, such as professional sports tickets, golf outings, meals, and luxury hotel accommodations in exchange for doctors prescribing large amounts of the company's drugs. These prescriptions were then allegedly billed to private insurers.

The current lawsuit alleges that by tracking prescription data, the company could identify low-prescribing doctors and then inform those doctors that they could lose perks. Additionally, salespeople at dinner events were allegedly instructed by the company to get physicians to prescribe for certain patient types and to then monitor new prescriptions by doctors.

Bristol -Myers Squibb has been the target of accusations involving kickbacks before. In 2007, the company agreed to a $515 million payout to settle federal whistleblower lawsuits in Massachusetts and Florida.

Calif Claims drug giant bribed docs to prescribe, The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2011