Judge in Protonix whistleblower lawsuit likely to reject Pfizer motion to dismiss Medicaid fraud case

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by Jay Pate

A Massachusetts federal judge has said that he will likely reject a motion by Pfizer to throw out a $2 billion lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice over the heartburn drug Protonix. The lawsuit alleges that Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (now owned by Pfizer) overcharged the federal Medicaid program and at least 16 state Medicaid programs hundreds of millions of dollars in prescriptions for Protonix.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit against Pfizer originally began as two whistleblower lawsuits filed by private citizens under the False Claims Act, which were later joined by the federal government and 16 other states. In 2012, Pfizer paid a $55 million settlement over claims that the company illegally promoted Protonix for off-label uses that had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

According to allegations by the Justice Department, Wyeth knowingly failed to pay hundreds of millions in rebates to state and federal Medicaid programs for the drugs Protonix Oral and Protonix IV. The Justice Department alleges that between 2001 and 2006, Wyeth offered steep discounts on Protonix Oral and Protonix IV to hospitals across the country, but failed to provide these same discounts to Medicaid programs. Under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Wyeth are required to offer the lowest prices when selling their products to the government. The Justice Department estimates that total damages in the Medicaid lawsuit filed over Protonix could total more than $2 billion.

In addition to the Justice Department, the lawsuit has also been joined on behalf of state Medicaid programs in California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. At least 17 other states—including Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming—have also filed motions to join the lawsuit.

Judge Douglas P. Woodlock of the U.S. District Court in Boston, who is overseeing the case, said that he would likely issue a written statement on the expected ruling later this month. Judge Woodlock also set a date for the jury trial in the lawsuit against Pfizer, which will begin in March 2016.

Legal Representation for Whistleblowers in Qui Tam Litigation

Whistleblower lawsuits like those in the Protonix case filed against Pfizer are brought by private citizens under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows whistleblowers to collect a portion of any damages recovered in litigation. These lawsuits are also known as “qui tam” cases. Other states involved in the Protonix lawsuits also have their own version of the False Claim Act. Billions of dollars have been recovered as a result of qui tam lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act, and hundreds of millions have been paid to the private citizens who helped make those recoveries possible.

Anyone who has information that a business or person has knowingly submitted a fraudulent claim to any branch of the government can potentially help file and pursue a lawsuit under the False Claims Act. The whistleblower in these cases does not have to have been personally harmed; they just needs to be aware of the false or fraudulent conduct. If money is recovered from a settlement or from a court judgment, the whistleblower who helped initiate the lawsuit can potentially recover up to 30% of the total amount recovered.

Federal agencies like the SEC have reported that 2014 was a record year for whistleblowers. Individuals who have been witness to fraud and wish to file a qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the federal government can begin the process of filing a case by speaking with a law firm that has extensive experience in handling qui tam litigation.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed numerous qui tam lawsuits on behalf of whistleblowers who reported cases of government fraud committed by corporations or contractors hired by the government. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to ensure that whistleblowers receive the highest possible compensation for pursuing fraud allegations involving government agencies. For example, our lawyers successfully negotiated a $1.75 million award for a whistleblower in a large tax fraud case.

To learn more about qui tam whistleblower lawsuits and to find out whether you may qualify to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following this link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.