In 2019 , health insurance giant Humana filed an arbitration claim against Walgreens, a major drugstore chain, alleging that Walgreens had submitted millions of falsely-inflated prescription drug prices for more than a decade. This case arises from Walgreens’ longstanding contracts with Humana to reimburse Walgreens for prescription drugs it dispensed at its pharmacies to people insured by Humana.
The dispute centered on the way that Walgreens calculates the “usual and customary” price of prescription drugs. Humana alleged that Walgreens had been inflating these prices in order to overcharge the insurer. Walgreens denied these allegations and said that it was simply following the terms of its contracts with Humana.
The arbitrator was Elliot Gordon, a retired federal judge. After a lengthy hearing, the arbitrator ruled in favor of Humana and awarded the insurer $642 million in damages.
Walgreens has filed a petition in federal court to vacate the arbitration award, arguing that the arbitrator “rewrote” its contracts with Humana and used a flawed model to assess alleged damages. Walgreens acknowledges that the bar for vacating an arbitration award is high. But they say “it is not insurmountable, however.”
According to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), a party can appeal an arbitration award if the original award contains material and prejudicial errors of law of such a nature that it does not rest upon any appropriate legal basis, or is based upon factual findings clearly unsupported by the record; or if the original award is subject to one or more of the grounds set forth in Section 10 of the FAA for vacating an award.
Walgreens also claims that law firm Crowell & Moring should not have been allowed to represent Humana after previously advising Walgreens years earlier on drug pricing matters at the heart of Humana’s 2019 arbitration. Crowell has denied any conflict of interest in representing Humana against the law firm’s former client Walgreens2.
Walgreens last year sued Crowell & Moring in District of Columbia Superior Court to immediately stop the large law firm from representing insurer Humana Health Plan Inc in the arbitration with Walgreens over drug pricing, contending Crowell, as its former firm, has violated its ethical duty. A judge in May 2021 ruled that Walgreens’ push for a preliminary injunction against Crowell belonged in front of the arbitrator. Walgreens appealed, and the drug-pricing arbitration moved ahead with Crowell remaining as counsel to Humana.
Washington, D.C.-based Crowell has denied any conflict of interest in representing Humana against the law firm’s former client Walgreens. A spokesperson for Crowell on Monday in a statement reviewed by Reuters called Walgreens’ ethics claim “meritless” and said the firm was “confident that the arbitrator’s thorough and well-reasoned award will be affirmed.”
Walgreens also argues that the arbitrator’s award is “manifestly unjust” and should be vacated on that ground as well.
Humana has responded to Walgreens’ petition, arguing that the arbitrator’s award should be confirmed. Humana argues that the arbitrator correctly found that Walgreens breached its contracts and that the damages award is supported by the evidence. Humana also argues that the arbitrator did not abuse its discretion and that the award is not manifestly unjust.
The outcome of the case could have a major impact on the pharmaceutical industry and the cost of prescription drugs.If the arbitrator’s award is upheld, it could set a precedent that would make it more difficult for pharmacies to inflate prescription drug prices. This could lead to lower prices for patients and could help to reduce the overall cost of healthcare.
The outcome of the case is also significant because it could impact the way that arbitration is used to resolve disputes in the pharmaceutical industry.