Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2018

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

California Sues Drug Maker AbbVie for Allegedly Paying Doctors to Prescribe Humira

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in California claims that pharmaceutical company AbbVie used cash, gifts and services to induce doctors to overprescribe the widely used drug Humira, ignoring the medicine’s potentially lethal side effects.

Speaking in a conference call to announce the lawsuit, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the alleged scheme meant that in many cases physicians prescribed Humira because of financial kickbacks, not because it was the best drug for the patient, the Associated Press reported.

“Ultimately, AbbVie gambled with the health and safety of thousands of Californians’ lives, including children, by making sure patients continued to take Humira at any cost, all to protect their profits, not the health and well-being of patients,” Jones said.

Humira is given by injection and is used to fight rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. But the drug — which had sales of more than $12 billion in 2017 — also comes with a warning for a higher risk of cancer and severe, potentially lethal infections.

According to the lawsuit, AbbVie footed the bill for physicians’ meals, drinks and travel, all in an effort to induce them to write more Humira prescriptions.

Nurses were also involved in the scheme, the lawsuit alleges. According to Jones’ agency, AbbVie would send nurses to the homes of patients already taking Humira. Once there, the nurses would present themselves as an extension of the prescribing doctor’s office, but in reality they were planted in patients’ homes to dissuade or block concerns or complaints regarding Humira.

Doctors benefited from the “free”nurses, as well, Jones said, noting that the nurses often took care of cumbersome paperwork for physicians.

“If given the choice between two medications, one which comes with free nurses and administrative staff and another that requires the provider to pay professional salaries, the provider cannot but help factor the substantial nursing kickback into their prescribing calculus,” the lawsuit said. The state’s lawsuit is based on testimony provided by an AbbVie nurse, the AP noted.

In the meantime, insurance companies in California shelled out more than $1.2 billion for Humira for thousands of patients in the state between 2013 and mid-2018.

But AbbVie called the charges “without merit.”

“AbbVie operates in compliance with the many state and federal laws that govern interactions with health care providers and patients,” the company’s statement said.

As for the nursing care it provides, AbbVie said that this is given to help educate patients and help with therapy and “in no way replace or interfere with interactions between patients and their health care providers.”

Posted: September 2018

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