California joins kickbacks suit against BMS

California has joined in on a whistleblower case against Bristol-Myers Squibb, unsealing allegations that the drugmaker bribed doctors to prescribe its drugs. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones maintains BMS's California sales reps offered junkets and other kickbacks to pump up scrip numbers for products including the blood thinner Plavix and statin drug Pravachol, Bloomberg reports.

Not only were docs rewarded for high prescription numbers--with box seats to Los Angeles Lakers games, among other things--but sales reps warned low-prescribing physicians that they wouldn't get free samples or invitations to dinners and trips, the lawsuit alleges. Bristol's people called it "shaking the doctors down."

The state's insurance companies spent $3.5 billion on the drugs mentioned in the suit, Jones said, and the state is asking for $10,000 for each fraudulent claim, plus a return of illegal profits and triple damages.

"Bristol-Myers Squibb believes this lawsuit has no merit and the company will defend itself vigorously," a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. The company is far from the only drugmaker to face kickback allegations at the moment, as the government focus on potential healthcare fraud intensifies. An Abbott Laboratories subsidiary recently agreed to pay $41 million in a kickbacks case, and Johnson & Johnson is now confronting kickback claims from the Justice Department.

- get the release from the state
- see the Bloomberg news
- read the Business Insurance coverage