The lawyer who took on Big Tobacco and Enron is now going after Big Pharma for ‘gouging’ the American consumer

He has a private jet, a pedigree of winning billion-dollar settlements, and the (sometimes grudging) respect of his adversaries.

Now, he wants to become pharma’s latest headache.

Class action attorney Steve Berman is coming after a drug industry he says is “gouging” the American consumer. And his suits have the potential to crack the lid on the black box of drug pricing, shedding light on a secretive process that has sparked an escalating blame game between drug makers and the many middlemen in the US health care system.

Berman sees the drug pricing system as a Rube Goldberg machine for extracting money from patients: Pharma sets a high price for a given medication, and then promises a big, undisclosed rebate to the pharmacy benefits managers who control which drugs get covered by insurers.

As prices go up, so too do the secret rebates. Berman’s conclusion: The big guys get richer, and the patients pay the price.

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So he’s suing. One of his recent cases, against Mylan, argues that the company ran a racket with its infamous EpiPen, doling out kickbacks to PBMs to ensure its epinephrine primacy. Another, against the three biggest makers of insulin, accuses them of mounting an “arms race” of lockstep price increases to compensate for escalating rebates.

“The theme in all the cases is that the consumer is powerless, and the drug companies know that,” Berman said in an interview. “It’s completely opaque, so the drug companies will take advantage of that any time they can.”


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