AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) agreed to pay $24 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the biopharmaceutical company committed wrongdoings in connection with its marketing practices of Humira, according to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
Humira is a prescription medicine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa, uveitis, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It was once a major sales driver for the biopharmaceutical company
AbbVie finally reached a settlement agreement with the California Insurance Commissioner and a whistleblower named Lazaro Suarez, who accused the biopharmaceutical company of paying kickbacks to doctors and using a network of “nurse ambassadors” to market and boost its sales of Humira.
Allegations against AbbVie
In the lawsuit, the State of California and Suarez alleged that AbbVie provided California doctors kickbacks in the form of cash payments, gifts, meals at fancy restaurants, trips, and other bribes to encourage them to prescribe Humira to their patients.
Additionally, AbbVie allegedly used nurse ambassadors to interact and establish relationships with doctors and patients regarding Humira. The biopharmaceutical company allegedly did not disclose that the nurse ambassadors were its employees and their goal was to boost the sales of Humira by handling insurance authorizations and claims, appealing denials of coverage by insurers, helping patients to enroll in insurance plans that cover payment for the prescription drug.
The State of California and the whistleblower alleged that AbbVie engaged in unlawful marketing practices. The biopharmaceutical company specifically violated the California Insurance Frauds Prevention Act.
In a statement, Commissioner Lara said, “AbbVie’s prior practices in marketing Humira egregiously put profits ahead of transparency in patient care and violated California law. This settlement delivers important reforms to AbbVie’s business practices and a substantial monetary recovery that will be used to continue to combat insurance fraud.”
AbbVie agreed to modify its marketing practices
In addition to the monetary payment, AbbVie agreed to change its marketing practices including:
- Requiring nurse ambassadors to disclose to patients that they are employees of AbbVie and not under the direction of their health care providers.
- Implement a new policy prohibiting Humira sales representatives from inviting prescribing health care providers to offsite business meals.
- Providing patients with the U.S. FDA-approved HUMIRA medication guide.
- Prohibiting AbbVie employees from describing nurse ambassadors to health care providers as “extensions of their offices” and from actively participating in conversations between patients and insurance companies.
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