Brown Settles $21.3 Million Medi-Cal Fraud Suit with Pharmaceutical Giant Schering-Plough
Sacramento – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today a $21.3 million settlement with Schering-Plough Corporation, resolving allegations the company “deliberately inflated” the price of Albuterol and other drugs, causing California’s Medicaid (Medi-Cal) program to overpay millions of dollars in pharmacy reimbursement.
Albuterol is a widely prescribed generic drug, delivered through inhalers, nebulizers and masks, and used to treat asthma and other breathing problems.
“With healthcare costs spiraling out of control, it’s unconscionable that a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company deliberately inflated its drug prices to cheat California’s public healthcare system out of millions of dollars,” said Brown. “This is a company that made more than $12 billion in profits last year, yet still raided the pockets of California taxpayers.”
Today’s settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower against several pharmaceutical companies accused of Medicaid fraud. The case is still proceeding against Dey, Inc., Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Sandoz, Inc. and their parent companies. Schering-Plough recently merged with Merck, and is now known as Merck & Co.
California’s $21.3 million agreement is one of three settlements negotiated with Schering-Plough, collectively totaling $69 million, over falsely inflated drug prices. The three lawsuits were originally filed by a whistleblower, Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys, Inc., on behalf of California, Florida and the federal government. Schering-Plough also reached settlements with Florida and the federal government, the latter for approximately $44.5 million.
The settlement resolves allegations that Warrick Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Schering-Plough, deliberately inflated the Average Wholesale Prices (AWPs) it reported to California for Albuterol. Medi-Cal sets the reimbursement rates for pharmacies for many of the drugs dispensed to Medi-Cal patients based on the AWPs reported by drug manufacturers.
California pharmacies dispensed Albuterol to patients and were then reimbursed by Medi-Cal. By reporting falsely inflated AWPs, some drug manufacturers caused Medi-Cal to overpay millions of dollars in pharmacy reimbursement. Medi-Cal is funded on a roughly 50% - 50% basis by the federal government and the State of California.
Reporting fraudulent AWPs is a violation of the California False Claims Act. The Attorney General’s Office investigated the claims, and in 2005, intervened in the lawsuit with its own complaint, currently being litigated in federal court in Boston. The California Department of Health Care Services, which is responsible for administering Medi-Cal, will receive $20.1 million, and the Attorney General’s False Claims Fund will receive just over $1.2 million.
The Attorney General’s False Claims Fund is used for the ongoing investigation and prosecution of false claims, including Medi-Cal fraud claims. Today’s settlement was negotiated by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. The Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse investigates and prosecutes claims of Medi-Cal civil and criminal fraud, as well as allegations of elder abuse, such as physical assaults or financial theft.
The settlement agreement is attached.