Health insurers are taking on the pharmaceutical industry on another front-the federal courts. Last week, four Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans filed suit against two major drugmakers, accusing them of conspiring to keep a cheaper generic version of a popular heart medication off the market.
The action, which comes on the heels of a related case filed on behalf of consumers in 15 states, is the latest in a growing list of lawsuits accusing drug firms of engaging in a host of unfair tactics to block generic competition.
The plaintiffs in the latest case include the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans of Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, and Excellus Health Plan, the parent of three Blues plans in New York.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges that Aventis Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Cardizem CD, illegally paid Andrx Corp. $89 million not to market its generic drug, Cartia XT, from July 1998 to June 1999. The delayed launch of Cartia XT cost the four Blues plans, which pay for enrollees' prescriptions, "millions of dollars," the plaintiffs said.
A month's supply of Cardizem CD, used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, was about $73 during the alleged 11-month conspiracy, about twice the price of the generic version that eventually came to market. Bridgewater, N. J.-based Aventis recorded $700 million in Cardizem CD sales during that period. zxxx
Aventis officials said the lawsuit contradicts the finding of the Federal Trade Commission, which completed a probe of the company's deal with Davie, Fla.-based Andrx in April. The FTC did not penalize the companies but ordered them not to engage in similar arrangements again. No trial date has been set.