Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager filed a lawsuit today against 20 major drug manufacturers across the nation for allegedly inflating prices, violating the state's wholesale pricing laws and driving up costs for healthcare programs for the poor and other drug buyers.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, the manufacturers "embarked on an unlawful scheme" at least as early as 1992 to distort the drug pricing system. The suit seeks to force the manufacturers to stop the practice and set up a restitution program for citizens, private payers and state health programs. It also seeks forfeitures of up to $10,000 per violation if the court finds the violations were against senior citizens.
Manufacturers named in the lawsuit include Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer Corp.
Pfizer spokesman Bryant Haskins declined to comment, saying he hasn't seen the lawsuit. Bayer and Johnson & Johnson officials didn't immediately return messages from the Associated Press.
The lawsuit alleges the manufacturers inflated prices for their drugs, deeply discounted the published wholesale prices for some customers and kept the discounts secret, according to the lawsuit. The purpose was to increase the manufacturers' sales, profits and market shares. The plan enabled drug providers in Wisconsin's Medicaid program to charge the state false prices and interfered with the state's ability to set reasonable reimbursement rates for the drugs, the lawsuit said.
"Wisconsin's Medicaid program has paid more for prescription drugs than it would have paid if defendants had published their true wholesale prices," the lawsuit said.
The inflated prices also caused some Medicare participants to pay higher copayments for their drugs, the lawsuit said. More than 700,000 Wisconsin residents are entitled to reimbursement under the section of Medicare that covers their medicines, the lawsuit said.
The attorneys general of 13 other states already have sued drug manufacturers for allegedly breaking wholesale pricing laws. Those suits are still pending.