Aetna Files Class-Action Lawsuit Against Abbott Over 400% Price Increase of Antiretroviral Drug Norvir

Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer, on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against Abbott Laboratories, claiming that the drug company's recent 400% price increase for its antiretroviral drug Norvir violates federal antitrust laws, the Chicago Tribune reports (Chicago Tribune, 5/27). In December 2003, Abbott increased by about 400% the per-patient wholesale price of Norvir, which is known generically as ritonavir (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/26). The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of all patients who have purchased the drug since Dec. 3, 2003, claims that patients are "being forced to pay higher prices for Norvir, which is an essential element of their HIV treatment, than would otherwise occur in a fair and competitive market" (Chicago Tribune, 5/27). In addition, the lawsuit says that the "brunt of the financial impact of Abbott's anticompetitive acts has been borne by insurance companies" (Kelleher, Financial Times, 5/27). Aetna is asking that Abbott be barred from "monopolizing the market" and seeks unspecified damages, according to Bloomberg/Hartford Courant (Bloomberg/Hartford Courant, 5/27). Abbott is facing similar suits from AIDS advocacy and consumer groups and is being investigated by the attorneys general of Illinois and Texas, the Tribune reports (Chicago Tribune, 5/27). In addition, NIH on Tuesday heard testimony on a request filed by Essential Inventions for a license to produce a generic version of the drug while it is still under patent. The request claims that the drug was developed using federal funding and is being sold at an unreasonably high price (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/26). "The lawsuit is without merit and our re-pricing of Norvir is entirely lawful," Abbott spokesperson Jennifer Smoter said, adding, "Doctors prescribe drugs based on the value they bring to patients, not on price" (Reuters, 5/26).

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