While Merck is battling Carol Ernst in Angleton, Texas, it is fighting another battle with the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. As may be recalled, the State of Texas has sued Merck for Medicaid fraud, but Merck is requesting that the lawsuit be moved from state court to federal court.
Abbott in turn filed a request for remand in court telling U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel that no federal issue exists to warrant such a venue change. The stateâ€™s suit contends the company failed to tell physicians and consumers that Vioxx may cause cardiovascular problems. The company also pushed to place Vioxx on the stateâ€™s Medicaid list for approved medicines, knowing this danger existed. He also alleges that Merck aggressively marketed the drug to the medical community, and in doing so, willfully misrepresented its own studies and the concerns of physicians who suggested the drug may sharply increase the risk of heart problems. The Attorney Generalâ€™s lawsuit claims Merckâ€™s aggressive marketing campaign aimed to convince arthritis patients that the drug was not only safe, but that they should demand it from their doctors for pain. The company also allegedly tried to intimidate or threaten physicians and researchers who questioned the safety of Vioxx. The company even routinely misrepresented or concealed published evidence, including its own, showing possible harmful effects of the drug. Similar arguments have been presented by Mark Lanier, the attorney for Carol Ernst.
The Texas Medicaid program reimbursed pharmacists $56 million for Vioxx prescriptions they filled for patients over a five-year period. The AG is invoking a provision in state law that allows for that amount to be automatically tripled to $168 million, which Merck would have to pay to the state of Texas for acts of fraud.
â€œMerck may try to run from the Texas courts, but they will not be able to hide from their scheme to misrepresent the safety of Vioxx to Texans,â€ says Attorney General Abbott. â€œThe company is clearly trying to evade justice by using these delay tactics…This is a major disappointment to the taxpayers of Texas, who deserve to be reimbursed for the companyâ€™s wrongful scheme to defraud Medicaid. I urge Merck to stop evading their obligations. A Texas jury deserves to hear evidence of fraud in a Texas district court.â€
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