Seniors Escalate Pharma Battle

July 1, 2002
Jill Wechsler, Pharm Exec's Washington Correspondent

Jill Wechsler is Pharm Exec's Washington Corespondent

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-07-01-2002,

As part of an aggressive campaign against the rising cost of medicines, AARP, the national advocacy group for Americans over 50, joined three class-action lawsuits against pharma companies involving alleged anticompetitive efforts to block generic competition and inflate prices.

As part of an aggressive campaign against the rising cost of medicines, AARP, the national advocacy group for Americans over 50, joined three class-action lawsuits against pharma companies involving alleged anticompetitive efforts to block generic competition and inflate prices. The association is lending legal support to the Boston-based Prescription Access Litigation project (PAL) in suits against:

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb, alleging that the company acted illegally to maintain a monopoly on its anti-anxiety medication BuSpar (buspirone).

  • Schering-Plough and others, charging that they conspired to keep a generic version of K-Dur 20 off the market.

  • AstraZeneca and Barr Laboratories, alleging that they colluded to block generic competition of tamoxifen.

AARP says it decided to serve as co-counsel in those cases because they involve medicines widely used by older Americans. The move is part of a broader educational, lobbying, and litigation campaign to reduce prescription drug costs, explains AARP CEO Bill Novelli.

The organization publicizes a toll-free number for people to call for information about any problems they have obtaining the medicines involved in the lawsuits. AARP also backs litigation against Aventis' protection of Cardizem (diltiazem).

AARP is involved in legal actions on the state level as well. The organization has filed briefs supporting Michigan's effort to gain higher rebates from manufacturers and has backed a Maine initiative requiring pharma companies to give rebates on purchases outside its Medicaid program. It is also working with 25 states to maintain or expand pharma programs for lower income groups. AARP has not yet joined state lawsuits involving manufacturers' reporting of inflated average wholesale prices, but it may do so in the future.

Besides seeking monetary damages, PAL attorneys' primary aim is to negotiate consent decrees that will deter pharma companies from committing such antitrust violations in the future. PAL seeks relief that is not specific to those cases but would prevent wrongful conduct by the whole industry. Since its formation a year ago, PAL has filed 30 lawsuits against pharma companies. Those suits make similar allegations against Pfizer over Neurontin (gabapentin), Johnson & Johnson over Remicade (inflixamab), Bayer over Cipro (ciprofloxican), Schering-Plough over Claritin (loratadine), and TAP over Lupron (leuprolide).

Novelli hopes the legal action will prompt Big Pharma to find ways to lower prices. A main AARP objective is to gain congressional approval of some Medicare pharmacy benefit this year. "That will be a voting issue" this fall, Novelli predicts. Although pharmacy cards and state pharmacy plans are helpful, he asserts, they are "not long-term solutions." Related to the issue is AARP's interest in reforming Waxman-Hatch to curb actions that block generics from coming to market. Novelli says a Medi-care prescription benefit will be unsustainable if drug prices continue to skyrocket, and he believes that AARP's efforts may help lower prices.

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