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Associated Press
AIDS care group sues drug company for false advertising

March 18, 2004
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A private AIDS care provider has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories, accusing the company of false advertising for saying that state Medicaid programs would not be affected by a recent price increase for its AIDS drug.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed the Superior Court lawsuit late Wednesday. The foundation, one of the country's largest AIDS care providers, said the company made "fraudulent, false and misleading" statements that state programs would not be affected by a nearly 400 percent rise in the price for its AIDS treatment ritonavir, which is sold under the brand name Norvir.

The foundation said the statements induced consumers - including itself - to continue buying Abbott's products, "despite its contemptible conduct."

Last month, the foundation filed a federal lawsuit accusing the company of violating federal antitrust laws by abusing its patent on ritonavir.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and a court order setting a price for the drug that is within "reasonable financial reach of the HIV-infected public."

The drug company strongly denied the charges Thursday and accused the foundation of filing "frivolous lawsuits."

A spokeswoman for Abbott said it had signed a contract with California exempting the state's MediCal program from the recent price increase.

"In fact, a representative from the Medical Services Branch has testified to the California senate health budget sub committee confirming no impact to MediCal," Abbott spokeswoman Laureen Cassidy said. "Abbott complies with federal laws overseeing Medicaid."