Pfizer unlikely to dump DOJ suit alleging $2 billion plus overcharges to Medicaid

In a lawsuit pending in the Federal Courthouse In Boston against Pfizer Inc. in which the Department of Justice says the company owes the Government more than $2 billion, the Judge said he has an “inclination” to deny the company’s four-year-old request to throw out the lawsuit.

The Justice Department lawsuit specifically alleges that the drug maker’s Wyeth unit  overcharged government Medicaid health programs for the heartburn drug Protonix. The Complaint says it  failed to provide to state Medicaid programs the same price discounts for Protonix that Wyeth was providing to certain nongovernment customers, as required by law, between 2001 and 2006.

The U.S. District Judge on the case said he expects to issue a written decision on the request later this month. The judge also scheduled a jury trial in the case for March 2016 in federal court in Boston, according to the website.

The Justice Department has previously stated in court documents that it believes Pfizer’s liability in the case should exceed $2 billion. A Pfizer spokeswoman said Tuesday the company believes the government’s allegations have no merit. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts couldn’t immediately be reached.

The Justice Department lawsuit said Wyeth avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates it should have paid to the Medicaid programs, which provide health care for low-income people. New York-based Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009.

The Justice Department’s allegations against Wyeth are based partly on allegations contained in two earlier whistleblower lawsuits filed against the company. Under the U.S. False Claims Act, people can file lawsuits accusing companies or individuals of defrauding the government, and receive up to 30% of any recoveries from settlements or court judgments that result from their allegations.

In 2012, Pfizer paid  $55 million to settle criminal allegations that Wyeth LLC, which it bought three years ago, illegally promoted heartburn drug Protonix for off-label uses.Wyeth’s alleged misconduct included transforming continuing medical education programs at universities and nonprofit centers into promotional vehicles for the company, the DOJ said. While pharmaceutical companies can financially support such programs, Wyeth purportedly crossed the line by allowing a so-called brand team to exert pervasive influence over the curricula, going so far as to require that course materials had the same color and appearance as Protonix literature.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers but none in this case.