AmerisourceBergen agrees to $13.4M settlement in Novartis kickback case

gavel and money
The specialty pharmacy unit of AmerisourceBergen has agreed to pay more than $13 million to resolve allegations that it got kickbacks to push a drug for Novartis.

Wholesaling giant AmerisourceBergen has finally come to the table to resolve a federal kickback lawsuit that Novartis settled two years ago for nearly $400 million.  

US Bioservices, the specialty pharmacy unit of AmerisourceBergen, has agreed to pay $13.4 million to extricate itself from allegations that federal and state insurance programs were illegally billed for Exjade prescriptions that stemmed from kickbacks, Reuters reports. If the court approves the deal, $10.6 million will be collected by the feds and $2.8 million by the states.

The company did not admit doing anything wrong as part of the settlement, but the lawsuit claimed that US Bioservices was one of three specialty pharmacies that pushed patients to get Exjade refills in return for more patient referrals and higher rebates from Novartis. BioScrip and Express Scripts' Accredo Health Group have already wrapped up their involvement in the case by paying a total of $75 million.

Novartis, which was the alleged mastermind of the deals, settled with the Justice Department and states two years ago for $390 million, shortly before the matter went to trial. Authorities were seeking up to $3.4 billion in damages.

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The case, which stemmed from a whistleblower lawsuit, had accused the Swiss drugmaker of setting up two schemes, one to push prescriptions of its transplant drug Myfortic and another for Exjade, which is an iron chelation drug.

For its part, US Bioservices was accused of having its nurses call patients to tell them about the potential danger of not treating their condition but downplaying the risks of the drug, which had been linked to sometimes fatal side effects like kidney and liver failure. The pharmacy also had patient care coordinators call and urge patients to get their prescriptions filled.

RELATED: Kickbacks judge to Novartis: Hand over the info on those 79,000 'sham' events

Novartis has been embroiled in kickback allegations for years now and is still scrapping with the feds in a case that it essentially paid kickbacks to doctors to influence them to prescribe more of its meds. Earlier this year, a U.S. judge ordered Novartis to hand over documents on 79,236 educational events the company says it held with doctors.

Federal prosecutors claim those events were nothing more than inducements, “kickbacks” if you will, to doctors. The government alleges that Novartis invited the same doctors to speaker events over and over, treating them to lavish dinners at Nobu and Smith & Wollensky—and gatherings at Hooters—in return for prescribing more Novartis meds.