Here is a story for a Friday afternoon, via a press release from the New York state Attorney General's office, per Bloomberg:
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a multimillion dollar settlement with a pharmaceutical company that inflated the cost of drugs sold to state health programs. The company, Pharmacia Corporation, has paid $2.5 million to the New York Medicaid program and to the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC), and also to cover the costs of the investigation.
Here is more information about the lawsuit:
The lawsuit, filed in 2003, charged that Pharmacia failed to report real and accurate prices, and did not take into account discounts, rebates, chargebacks and other price concessions to their wholesalers. As a result, New York's Medicaid Program and the EPIC program paid more for certain drugs manufactured by Pharmacia than those state programs should have.
This is an unusual entrant into our march of legal settlements. As noted above, this lawsuit took eight years to settle. The entity that made the settlement, Pharmacia, is actually long gone as an independent company. It merged into Pfizer in 2003 (see this). Despite the eight years of waiting, the settlement is extremely paltry compared to the size of the company to which the settlement now applies. According to Google Finance, in 2010, Pfizer's annual revenues were more than $67 billion.
This settlement adds in a small way to a series of settlements Pfizer has recently made. Pfizer paid a $2.3 billion settlement in 2009 (see post here), and three other major settlements from then to early 2010 (see post here). The company was listed as one of the pharmaceutical "big four" companies in terms of defrauding the government (see post here). For other discussions of Pfizer on Health Care Renewal, look here.
The New York Attorney General's press release claimed, "These are hard financial times for our state, and my office will do its part by uncovering every dishonestly claimed dollar, and holding those who take advantage of New York accountable." Begging his pardon, but could he really have been serious that nicking Pfizer for $2.5 million eight years after the lawsuit was filed is really holding this giant company accountable? Will this settlement make the company any more accountable than all those that came before, some almost one thousand times bigger? Meanwhile, as is usually the case in these stories about the march of legal settlements in health care, no person who authorized, directed or implemented the questionable activity apparently paid any penalty or suffered any sort of negative consequences.
This week, Matt Taibi asked "why isn't Wall Street in jail?" in the title of his most recent Rolling Stone article. I should also ask, why aren't some leaders of pharmaceutical, device, biotechnology, and managed care corporations in jail?
Just as the leaders of big financial service firms seem to be completely unaccountable for the havoc they created in the global economy, and despite bluster by various government officials, the leaders of big health care corporations seem to be completely unaccountable for the unethical behavior of their companies that continue to inflate the health care bubble.
So for the nth time I will repeat: we will not deter unethical behavior by health care organizations until the people who authorize, direct or implement bad behavior fear some meaningfully negative consequences. Real health care reform needs to make health care leaders accountable, and especially accountable for the bad behavior that helped make them rich.
Meanwhile, the continued unwillingness of government leaders to take on corporate leaders suggests how corporatist the US has become. Government for the corporations, by the corporations, and of the corporations, bodes no good for the people whose rights are increasingly being displaced.
Mr Taibi encapsulated the problem in a more colorful way, and I will end with his version, somewhat edited for this family publication:
Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.
'Everything's f***ed up, and nobody goes to jail,' he said. 'That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.'
* - the quote has been attributed to William Gladstone in a 1868 speech. but may be older than that (link here)