Ala. Sues AstraZeneca Over Drug Prices

An attorney representing the state said Monday that a British pharmaceutical company set up a scheme to make the Alabama Medicaid system pay $40 million too much for drugs prescribed for its patients.

Attorney Jere Beasley made the comments during opening statements in the trial of a lawsuit against AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, which is accused of inflating the cost of its drugs.
"They never once provided the state with an honest and accurate price," Beasley said.
AstraZeneca attorney Tom Christian told jurors the drug manufacturer made sure the Alabama Medicaid Agency got the best price it could for prescription drugs.

"We didn't lie to anyone," Christian said.

AstraZeneca manufactures a number of drugs, including Nexium, "the little purple pill" that is used to treat heartburn and acid reflux, and Crestor, which is prescribed to lower cholesterol.
Christian said it's wrong to imply that the state ended up paying pharmacists too much money because of information the Medicaid Agency received from AstraZeneca.

"The state barely paid the pharmacists enough to stay in business," Christian said.

AstraZeneca is one of more than 70 pharmaceutical manufacturers that Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed suit against in 2005 over drug prices. The case against AstraZeneca is the first to go to trial. The state has settled with two of the drug manufacturers, Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc. and Day LP.

A jury of eight women and six men is hearing the trial before Circuit Judge Charles Price in Montgomery. The trial is expected to last at least three weeks and features some of the state's most high-profile attorneys, including Beasley, a former lieutenant governor whose firm helped settle a major Vioxx case last year. Former Attorney General Bill Baxley is one of the lawyers representing AstraZeneca.

Beasley told jurors that much of the state's case against the pharmaceutical company would be based on internal memos written by AstraZeneca employees.
"The evidence is going to be clear that they never thought anybody would see these documents," Beasley told jurors.

Beasley said the state is seeking $40 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
Christian said AstraZeneca had done nothing to harm Medicaid recipients. He also told jurors that AstraZeneca had paid the state $40 million in rebates. He said if the state wins the lawsuit and forces lower prices, it will make it financially impossible for pharmacists to fill the prescriptions of Medicaid patients.

"If Attorney General King has his way and gets a big settlement from AstraZeneca and knocks down the price being paid to pharmacists, there won't be any Medicaid program," Christian said.

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