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New York’s attorney general accused three major drug companies Thursday of bribing doctors and pharmacists to favor their products, costing consumers as much as $100 million a year. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s lawsuits against Pharmacia Corp. and GlaxoSmithKline allege consumer fraud, commercial bribery and making false statements concerning wholesale prices to government-operated subsidized health plans. Spitzer said he also has sent a “pre-litigation notice” to Aventis accusing that company of the same activity. Similar lawsuits are pending in California and Texas. Drug company officials say their practices are legal and that the states are overreaching. Spitzer said the companies report an inflated “average wholesale price” to Medicare and Medicaid programs for their drugs, many of which are used to treat cancer or ease the side effects of chemotherapy. The difference, or “spread,” between the inflated price reimbursed by governments and the lower price charged to doctors and pharmacists can be pocketed by the medical professionals, according to Spitzer. He said the spread is an enticement to choose those drugs over competitors, a claim the companies dispute. “It is craven, it is wrong,” Spitzer said at a press conference in New York City. He said drug companies “will not pick the pockets of those who need pharmaceuticals to support their dividends and their CEOs’ outrageous salaries.” For just seven drugs in 2001, the practice added $141 million to what the state paid and $28 million to what New York consumers paid, Spitzer said. Overall, he estimated the practice costs consumers up to $100 million, but did not have an estimate Thursday of the state’s total cost. Spitzer said he did not know how many other companies engaged in the practice and would not comment on whether the physicians and pharmacists who participated would be investigated. Pharmacia spokesman Paul Fitzhenry said the spread has “evolved over time to become a means by which physicians and other health care providers are reimbursed for their time and facilities.” GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier told a meeting of analysts in New York City that the company never used the difference between price and reimbursement as a way to sell more drugs. “We’ve never benefited from the spread becoming bigger or smaller,” he said. An Aventis spokeswoman, Lise Geduldig, said the company “believes that we have complied fully with the laws and regulations.” She declined further comment. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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