Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio is joined by RT Correspondent Brigida Santos to put drug manufacturers in the spotlight, as over two dozen are accused of colluding to send prescription drug prices skyrocketing. Then, legal journalist Mollye Barrows joins Mike Papantonio to explain how airlines are quietly tweaking passenger agreements to make it more difficult or even impossible to sue them for any wrongdoing.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: A sweeping lawsuit accuses 26 drug manufacturers of colluding in a price fixing scheme to drive up the cost of generic prescriptions. RT’s Brigida Santos joins me now to talk about this story. Brigida, which companies are named in the lawsuit and how did they defraud the public?
Brigida Santos: Well, there are 26 companies named. The defendants include notable drug makers, Mylan, Pfizer, Sun pharmaceutical industries, and Novartis’ Sandoz unit and at least 10 drug company executives who are responsible for sales, marketing, pricing and operations. The 450 page complaint outlines how the companies and executives artificially inflated the prices of 80 generic drugs through phone calls, text messages, emails, corporate conventions and even cozy dinner parties. The executives reportedly in constant communication, colluding to fix prices and restrain competition. Their alleged activities are of course illegal under federal and state antitrust and consumer protection laws. So it’s great to see this lawsuit coming forward.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, but Brigida, in America if you’re dressed up in a suit and you’ve got a tie on and you carry a briefcase and you’ve got a Bentley outside, your laws are different from everybody else. See none of these thugs will see the inside of a prison, even though the law is very clear it’s felony, felony, felony. We’re not talking about misdemeanor law here. We’re talking about serious felonies and the department of justice under Clinton was unwilling to do anything about it. Under Bush was willing unwilling to do it. Under Obama, not, not going to send anybody to prison. Under Trump, nobody’s going to go to prison. So, so this has been going on for so long because we, they, they know they never have to go to prison. All they do is pay a fine and it’s get out of jail free. What drugs did the companies inflate? What, what prices did they inflate?
Brigida Santos: Well, this complaint really focuses on generic topical skin products. So dermatology products, including the local anesthetic, lidocaine ointment, anti-fungal cream, clotrimazol and latanoprost drops for treating glaucoma and other eye diseases. These are drugs that are commonly prescribed. So many people rely on them. And this scheme unfortunately took place allegedly between 2009 and 2016, which denied millions of consumers, access to affordable generic alternatives to those expensive brand name counterparts. And the fact that the prices of these generic topical drugs had increased exponentially over that timeframe is really what prompted this investigation. Prices were skyrocketing without explanation, in some cases doubling, tripling, or even increasing by over 1000%.
Mike Papantonio: Well, we know this, we know that you start, you said 2009. We know that Eric Holder not only did not prosecute them, he gave them their way out every they were, every time they were cornered, Eric Holder let them up. Nobody was even investigated, much less prosecuted. Then comes in Loretta Lynch, right after Eric Holder. You see both of those folks, just like we saw with the Bush administration, just like we saw with the Clinton administration, just like we see with the Trump administration. They all are just joined at the hip with industry, all kinds of industry, not just drug industry, all the industry. The cost of generic drugs aren’t just high in dermatology. They’re, they’re high across the board as in the healthcare in general. What kind of bills are COVID-19 patients seeing these days?
Brigida Santos: It’s been absolutely crazy. Now, people who have been treated for COVID-19 have reported receiving astronomical medical bills. One woman in New York accidentally received a bill that should have actually gone directly to her insurance company, but it illuminated how high healthcare prices are. Now her bill totaled over $400,000. It was reduced to $75,000 as a financial assistance benefit, but still she can’t afford to pay that much. When she actually looked at the bill to find out what she was charged for, it was really vague. It did include one line for prescriptions for over $42,000, actually it was titled pharmacy. Now there was no itemized breakdown letting her know what the drugs had cost or even what drugs the doctors gave her. And then another COVID-19 patient from Seattle said that his coronavirus virus medical bills totaled over $1.1 million. Now he’s not going to have to pay most of that due to special financial aid rules that apply only to COVID-19 due to those congressional bills that were just passed. But people suffering from other diseases like cancer, they’re often on the hook for similarly outrageous bills.
Mike Papantonio: And the point is this, the point is we, these, these folks, these CEOs absolutely know that they are criminally breaking the law. But they absolutely know that in Washington DC they’re going to get away with it. Somebody’s going to have to pay a fine, but nobody goes to prison. So the next CEO comes in and does exactly the same thing. Without a perp walk this is never going to change. And I haven’t seen a president that has had the damn backbone to do what he should have done and appoint an attorney general who’s serious about throwing white collar criminals in prison, and that’s what we have here and it’s only going to get worse. Brigida, thank you for joining me. Okay.
Brigida Santos: Thanks Mike.
Mike Papantonio: Airlines around the world have taken a nosedive with the coronavirus pandemic, scrapping millions of travel plans. So what’s the story of the airlines tweaking their passenger agreements, making it more difficult to get paid when you pay an airline a thousand dollars, trying to get it back when they cancel your flight? Let’s talk about this.
Mollye Barrows: Yes. So basically these are a number of airlines that have added these additional clauses, even before COVID hit, where they, you know, you have to sign these carriage of, or contracts of carriage when you buy a ticket. It’s, it’s a standard industry document. If you want a ticket, before you can even swipe your credit card to buy that plane ticket, you basically have to agree to this. And there are clauses in there that say, if you’ve got a problem with this airline, we’re going to have to go to arbitration or you can file an individual lawsuit, but no class actions. And so essentially it’s one of those, what did you call a contract of adhesion.
Mike Papantonio: Adhesion, yeah.
Mollye Barrows: Yes, there’s no choice.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. So here’s how it works. Airline owes you $800 because you paid them and they, they canceled, not even under COVID, they just canceled the flight. So you call them and you say, I want my $800 back. They say, well, no, you’re going to have to, you’re going to have to go to arbitration to get it back.
Mollye Barrows: Or get a voucher
Mike Papantonio: Or get a voucher and what ends up happening is these, if you, if you’re owed $800 by the airline, right, you can’t sue them because the cost to sue them is so much. But the way you could go after them is in a class action where you had thousands of people that were treated the same way and it’s one lawsuit. And they say under the one lawsuit, this conduct by American airlines was wrong. It was a contract of adhesion that you made these people sign. They had to sign in order to travel. It’s a due process argument. It’s an equal protection argument. And frankly, the only way that anybody’s going to get their money back is through class actions.
Mollye Barrows: Well, it’s interesting because they talked about that, that class actions are actually one of the few avenues that an individual has in order to pursue the litigation for exactly what you’re talking about. And when you say something like that, I’m like, well, gosh, couldn’t you go to a small claims court.
Mike Papantonio: No you can’t.
Mollye Barrows: In the County or state, but that’s what they said. Most airlines, aren’t subject to state or individual state laws and or consumer laws that would be in place to naturally protect the consumer.
Mike Papantonio: You have to sue them in federal court. The, the, the, the chance look, here’s the only good news. There is a spectacular class action law firm handling a case on this. It’s called Berger Montague. We work with them all the time. They’re our pals. We do business with them. We’re partners in some lawsuits, they are the best class action law firm in America. They’re going after American airlines. They’re going after some of these other folks. That’s the only, that’s the only, only possibility of changing all this, isn’t it?
Mollye Barrows: Yes, it is. So you have American airlines, British airways, frontier airlines, spirit airlines also have the no class action clause and you have American airlines is one of the few that’s responded and said, oh no, we give people arbitration as an option in order to resolve complaints. And they can still bring an individual lawsuit, which if you don’t realize what that means, like you talked about the individual lawsuit is practically a non-option.
Mike Papantonio: They owe you $700, it cost 5,000, just to initiate the lawsuit. They know this, once they get the, the guy, the person that’s owed money in arbitration, the arbitrators are typically, typically controlled by the corporation.
Mollye Barrows: Right, just like Amazon has been under fire for.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, exactly. There is no, there’s no arbitrator there that’s out looking for the consumer. The arbitrator gets their job because of their contacts with these various corporations. So this whole process of what American airlines is doing, what, what incense me about some of the articles that were written is they actually, with a straight face American airlines with a straight face, says we’re trying to help our pass. That’s what they say. That’s what, we’re trying to help our passengers. Isn’t that what?
Mollye Barrows: That’s exactly right though. Yeah. Again, even with the spin, oh, you know, you can still bring an individual lawsuit with a straight face, knowing that that’s going to get them nowhere. But it, do you feel like the whole industry is going to change? Because part of this, you know, you’ve got so many cancellations of flights. They owe people, billions of dollars that these class actions are facing.
Mike Papantonio: It’s gonna have to change.
Mollye Barrows: So it seems like this is almost a hail mary on the part of the airline industry.
Mike Papantonio: Contracts of adhesion are not favored by the court.
Mollye Barrows: So it’s not going to work out. We’ll follow up.
Mike Papantonio: Ah, we’ll see, we’ll see. It depends on what judge it appears in front of.