Health insurers, unions and other private groups that paid for prescriptions for withdrawn painkiller Vioxx have reached an $80 million settlement with its maker, ending another part of the multipronged litigation.
Such third-party payers had filed about 190 claims against Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based drugmaker Merck & Co. They said they would not have covered Vioxx had they known about its cardiovascular risks, which they argued Merck concealed.
Merck pulled the blockbuster painkiller from the market in September 2004 because it doubled risk of heart attack and stroke.
In late 2007, Merck reached a $4.85 billion settlement covering roughly 50,000 plaintiffs claiming they or a relative had been harmed or killed by Vioxx.
One of the lead attorneys in the third-party payer litigation, Christopher Seeger, had estimated Merck could have lost up to $18 billion -- about three-quarters of its entire annual revenue. That's because the claims were consolidated in New Jersey, where courts allow for triple damages.
Merck said in a regulatory filing Monday that the company and the plaintiffs agreed in principle to settle all outstanding claims, and it took an $80 million charge for the settlement in the second quarter.
Those lawsuits had been moving through the courts for more than four years, with New Jersey judges approving a class action lawsuit and the New Jersey Supreme Court later overturning that ruling. Seeger estimated third-party payers covered about 80 percent of the cost of prescriptions for Vioxx, which generated billions of dollars in annual sales while on the market from 1999 through 2004.
Merck still faces hundreds of other Vioxx lawsuits, including cases filed by patients alleging harm who were not eligible for the $4.85 billion settlement or chose not to participate, and former users just seeking reimbursement for their out-of-pocket Vioxx costs. A class action case for Missouri residents seeking such reimbursement has been approved, and potential class actions are awaiting approval in three other states.
Eighteen government lawsuits, including ones filed by 10 states and New York City, seek reimbursement both for Vioxx costs and for treating any patients injured by Vioxx. Multiple shareholder lawsuits seek reimbursement for financial losses due to the plunge in Merck's stock price related to Vioxx.
The third-party settlement, not previously disclosed, was mentioned in a quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.
The filing also noted that an SEC investigation of the company's conduct regarding Vioxx, begun in November 2004, was terminated in the second quarter.
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