Too Big to NailSunday, April 4, 2010
What an incredible investigative piece on CNN Health, citing Pfizer’s illegal – according to FDA rules – marketing of the painkiller Bextra. Now I don’t support the notion of the FDA as a legitimate authority, however, the law of the land is enforced with a great big jack boot, except in the case of the giants of corporate socialism.
Back in 2001, the FDA approved Bextra, but not for its intended purpose: acute, surgical pain. It was approved for other, lesser uses that wouldn’t bring in the mega profits envisioned by company executives. Pfizer resorted to off-label promotion, selling its drug for uses which the FDA did not approve. Pfizer also lied about having the FDA’s recommendation as it pushed the drugs to scores of medical professionals, and it lied about the recommended dosage as well. The story goes that company executives knew nothing about this – it was cowboy salesmen going out and creating their own myths and fraudulently selling the dope. Internal documents appear to show otherwise. The story notes that “By April 2005, when Bextra was taken off the market, more than half of its $1.7 billion in profits had come from prescriptions written for uses the FDA had rejected.” But the feds’ prosecution was not to be.
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.
Prosecutors said that excluding Pfizer would most likely lead to Pfizer’s collapse, with collateral consequences: disrupting the flow of Pfizer products to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, causing the loss of jobs including those of Pfizer employees who were not involved in the fraud, and causing significant losses for Pfizer shareholders.
Thus Pfizer struck a deal with the federal government to charge its subsidiary, Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc., with the crime. The subsidiary is a shell company that was set up for sinister purposes – and it never sold a single prescription drug. But it was excluded from Medicare. Tough punishment. Thanks to Mark Fee for the link.