By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Administrators of the union’s welfare plan are mounting a new legal offensive to keep the rising costs of generic drugs in check.
If successful, the court cases would help “correct widespread corrupt practices in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Audrey Browne, associate administrator and counsel of the DC 37 Health & Security Plan, which oversees the union’s drug benefit for over three hundred thousand members, retirees and their dependents.
The first lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in Philadelphia federal court, accuses generic drug manufacturers of conspiring to increase the price of a popular generic drug called propranolol, which is used to treat hypertension and prevent heart attacks. The suit seeks a rollback in prices and damages.
Two other price rigging cases have also been filed in federal courts in New York and New Jersey against the generic manufactures of levothyroxine (treats thyroid conditions) and clomipramine (treats depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder).
For years, generic drugs were an effective antidote to the high price of brand-name prescription drugs. But profit-hungry manufacturers have recently sent the cost of generics soaring as well.
These suits are the latest court actions taken by the union’s welfare plan against the pharmaceutical industry. Browne says a legal victory could save millions of dollars and hopefully will help delay future hikes in co-pays. In January, prescription drug co-pays increased for the first time in two decades.
Years ago, the plan sued three drug manufacturers that illegally inflated the price of brand-name drugs. The parties in one of the cases agreed to settle for $350 million. The plan saved millions more when prices were rolled back to pre-inflated levels in another suit.
In another case, the plan sued a drug manufacturer for off-label marketing of a drug –promoting a medication for a use not approved by the Federal Drug Administration. The drug was linked to a spike in suicides among youngsters. That case was settled for $40 million and the manufacturer was prohibited from marketing the drug for off-label uses.
Meanwhile, the union supports proposed legislation to combat drug price gouging in New York State. One bill backed by DC 37 would prohibit prescription drug manufacturers from increasing the price of a drug by 100 percent within a 12-month period.
And in our nation’s capital, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — DC 37’s national union — has endorsed a bill by U.S. Senator Al Franken designed to improve access to affordable prescription drugs.
“The high price of drugs hurts our prescription drug benefit and ultimately harms our members and retirees,” DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said. “We are committed to doing whatever we can — including lawsuits and legislation — to protect our prescription drug benefit.”
This article previously appeared in the May 2017 issue of Public Employee Press.