Judge tosses RICO claims over AbbVie's Humira, AndroGel copay cards

AbbVie ($ABBV) may be under fire from the Federal Trade Commission for delaying AndroGel generics, but it won't have to face racketeering claims over its generics-fighting sales tactics.

That's good for the company. It's also good for pharma marketers. That's because the lawsuit in question based its racketeering allegations on copay cards and coupons. An increasingly common marketing technique, the discounts aim to keep patients on brand-name drugs rather than switch to generics (or another brand). Payers don't like them because coupons interfere with their own cost-saving efforts.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow tossed out claims that AbbVie and its former parent Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) conspired with pharmacies to boost sales of its autoimmune blockbuster Humira and testosterone drug AndroGel. The crux of the argument? That AbbVie told pharmacies to hide "subsidies"--a.k.a. copay offers--by processing them as secondary insurance claims rather than as discounts paid for by the drugmaker.

Dow didn't buy it. Copay cards are part of pharmacies' everyday business, he said. The plaintiff--New England Carpenters Health and Welfare fund--didn't show that pharmacies "processed savings cards in a fraudulent manner in order to further the distinct goals of an enterprise, separate and apart form the pharmacies' business," Dow wrote.

According to the complaint, hiding copay subsidies could raise payers' prescription drug costs by $32 billion over 10 years.

Meanwhile, copay coupons are coming under increased scrutiny by the government. Earlier this week, the Health and Human Services Department's Office of the Inspector General said drugmakers aren't doing enough to make sure that Medicare and Medicaid patients aren't taking advantage of the discounts. Failing to crack down on that use--which is illegal for patients in federally funded programs--could fall afoul of anti-kickback laws, the OIG said.

- read the Reuters news

Special Report: The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Humira