Courtesy CNN

Do drug companies make too much money?

Imagine being charged with a crime, but an imaginary friend takes the rap for you.

That is essentially what happened when Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, was caught illegally marketing Bextra, a painkiller that was taken off the market in 2005 because of safety concerns.

When the criminal case was announced last fall, federal officials touted their prosecution as a model for tough, effective enforcement. “It sends a clear message” to the pharmaceutical industry, said Kevin Perkins, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

But beyond the fanfare, a CNN Special Investigation found another story, one that officials downplayed when they declared victory. It’s a story about the power major pharmaceutical companies have even when they break the laws intended to protect patients.

Internal company documents show that Pfizer and Pharmacia (which Pfizer later bought) used a multimillion-dollar medical education budget to pay hundreds of doctors as speakers and consultants to tout Bextra.

Pfizer said in court that “the company’s intent was pure”: to foster a legal exchange of scientific information among doctors.

But an internal marketing plan called for training physicians “to serve as public relations spokespeople.”

According to Lewis Morris, chief counsel to the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “They pushed the envelope so far past any reasonable interpretation of the law that it’s simply outrageous.”

But when it came to prosecuting Pfizer for its fraudulent marketing, the pharmaceutical giant had a trump card: Just as the giant banks on Wall Street were deemed too big to fail, Pfizer was considered too big to nail.

Why? Because any company convicted of a major health care fraud is automatically excluded from Medicare and Medicaid. Convicting Pfizer on Bextra would prevent the company from billing federal health programs for any of its products. It would be a corporate death sentence.

Only 3 months profit ($1.2 billion in a criminal fine) as a penalty? That must have really hurt bad…

Thanks to Jay from Cage Match

  1. denacron says:

    Snake oil tastes oh-so-much better when contained in a capsule.

  2. ECA says:

    They could have RELEASED every copyright the corp holds..
    WHICH would have shot them in the FOOT.

  3. sargasso says:

    #2. ECA. Yes, or maybe even better, auctioned off the patent rights. You make a good point. A patent is not private property, it is a contract with the federal government which the state can conclude if it is no longer in it’s interests.

  4. Buffet says:

    Great article. Bextra is an NSAID – not a ‘painkiller’. Details man, details.

  5. Dallas says:

    Yup. Lots of money to made in “un-healthcare” and the business is great –

    Lots of customers that are old, sick, fat, stressed, McDonalds fed, out of shape and uninsured which results in nice juicy emergency care services.

    Thank you, Prez Obama for reforming this out of control industry that is heading to nearly a quarter of the GDP.

    The GOP doesn’t mind that we spend more per person for total healthcare costs than any other nation yet statistics indicate poorer average health compared the Western world.

    We need to cut off the GOP air supply provided by these giants which in turn use profits to feed the sheeple the bull to sustain them.

    This is like religion, but worse.

  6. Zybch says:

    “Too Big to Bail” should be the label placed on these corrupt companies.

  7. deowll says:

    #6 You are a hoot. This is OBama and his justice department pure and simple giving us change we can believe in and you blame the GOP?

    I bet you’d blame the GOP if Yellowstone erupted.

  8. chuck says:

    So sticking the CEO (or the executive who came up with the marketing plan) in jail for 10 years wasn’t an option?

  9. Jay says:

    When I first saw the article I thought like ECA did either open up the patents or go Ma Bell on them and let the dust fall

  10. jollycynic says:

    aint it just peachy how the left uses corporations? Run the small ones out of business and occasionally slap the big ones with a token fine when you need some photo ops. The american left is too smart to actually try to socialize the country. They’ll just destroy all but a few big corporations and keep them under their thumbs with justice applied for the rolling cameras only. You’re watching the biggest political con job ever and some of you are cheering for it.

  11. Animby says:

    I was gonna say something nasty then figured it was all just sour grapes since I didn’t get any of the speaker money.

  12. RSweeney says:

    This is a clear case where the law, as written, can not be enforced without massive negative impact on health in the USA.

    The law needs to be changed to focus on monetary punishment of the offending company, since obviously the punishment of exclusion from the “federal” market (soon to be the only market) is not realistic.

    The presence of such a ridiculous law makes a mockery of justice and corrupts the process.

  13. …but then the poor guy who gets busted with a dime bag will never get food stamps or housing assistance for the rest of his life. Go figure.

    So what if Medicaid won’t reimburse Pfizer? What about all the other insurance mobs… I mean companies?

  14. Somebody says:

    “Imagine being charged with a crime, but an imaginary friend takes the rap for you.”

    Happy Easter to you too!


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