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Jury Awards State $215 Million in Medicaid Case

By Associated Press

Montgomery, AL – A state court jury on Thursday awarded Alabama $215 million in its Medicaid drug price fraud suit against AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP.

The Montgomery County circuit court jury said the subsidiary of Britain's AstraZeneca PLC must pay $40 million in compensatory damages and $175 million in punitive damages.

The state claimed the firm made Alabama's Medicaid system pay too much for drugs prescribed to its patients by inflating prices. The firm said it got the state the best price it could for drugs.

AstraZeneca is one of more than 70 pharmaceutical manufacturers that Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed suit against in 2005 over drug prices for Medicaid recipients.

The state settled cases with two drugmakers: Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc. and Day LP. The suit against AstraZeneca was the first to go to trial.

Drugs manufactured by AstraZeneca include Nexium, which is used to treat heartburn and acid reflux, and Crestor, which is prescribed to lower cholesterol.

Montgomery attorney Jere Beasley, who represented the state, had told the jury that AstraZeneca never provided the Medicaid agency with an ''honest and accurate'' price for its drugs.

Birmingham lawyer Tom Christian, representing the pharmaceutical, said the prices charged the state were barely enough for the pharmacists to stay in business.

He said at the start of the trial that a big judgment against AstraZeneca that forces lower prices would make it financially impossible for pharmacists to fill prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

King called a news conference to discuss the jury's verdict.

Christian was not in his law office and not immediately available for comment.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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