Nevada News Reporter

AstraZeneca pays $7.9M to settle kickback charge

AstraZeneca pays $7.9M to settle kickback charge

A U.S. division of British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca will pay the federal government $7.9 million to settle allegations the drug manufacturer and distributor engaged in a kickback scheme to boost sales of one of its popular medications. The civil settlement, announced Wednesday by the Department of Justice, resolves charges that Delaware-based AstraZeneca LP agreed to pay millions of dollars to keep the “sole and exclusive” status of its Nexium heartburn medication held on a list of drugs eligible for coverage by government health care plans.

Federal investigators said the company allegedly reached the secret agreement with Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager that administered the medication list, which is known as a formulary. In exchange for maintaining Nexium’s listing status, AstraZeneca LP allegedly gave Medco price breaks on other drugs the company marketed. They included Prilosec, another heartburn drug, as well as Toprol XL and Plendil, medications used to treat high blood pressure.

“AstraZeneca embarked on this course of unlawful conduct knowing it would lead to the submission of substantial and myriad false claims for Nexium by participating pharmaceutical providers to Government Health Care programs, when by law these claims were not reimbursable,” a federal whistle-blower court complaint filed in Delaware alleged. Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce Branda said “hidden financial agreements between drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers can improperly influence which drugs are available to patients and the price paid for the drugs.”

Despite the settlement, AstraZeneca LP denied the government allegations. “It is in the best interest of the company to resolve these matters and to move forward with our business of discovering and developing important, life-changing medicines — while avoiding the delay, uncertainty, and expense of protracted litigation,” the company said in a statement issued Wednesday.