A national nonprofit consumer advocacy organization filed class action lawsuits in several federal courts last week accusing major drug manufacturers of illegally steering customers to their product.

According to the overseers of three health plans in the Community Catalyst’s Prescription Access Litigation coalition, major drug manufacturers have illegally subsidized co-payments for expensive brand-name prescription drugs like Lipitor and Nexium by promoting co-pay coupons.

The lawsuits were filed in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Newark by the AFSCME District Council 37 Health & Security Plan Trust, Sergeants Benevolent Association, the New England Carpenters and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 572 Health and Welfare Fund.

According to the lawsuit, payments made by nine drug makers (Abbott, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Gilhead, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis and Pfizer) are illegal under a federal statute that bans commercial bribery because payments to patients and pharmacies are made through a so-called “shadow claims system,” designed to keep information about the presence or amount of these payments from health plans.

These same health plans provide drug benefits for civilian and uniformed municipals workers, retirees and their dependents throughout the city of New York, plumbers from Florida to Ohio and carpenters throughout New England.

The aforementioned drug plans have been struggling to keep up with the current rising tide of medical costs. Lillian Roberts, president of DC37, had this to say in a statement:

“Our members are harmed by these unlawful practices by drug companies because coupons offering discounts off brand-name drugs don’t save consumers money in the long run,” said Roberts, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Wells Wilkinson, director of the Prescription Access Litigation project at Community Catalyst, echoed her sentiments.

“Pharmaceutical corporations are duping consumers with misleading coupons that are more about increasing corporate profits than actually reducing the cost of drugs for consumers,” said Wells.

“If not stopped, the use of these deceptive coupons will increase costs for consumers health plans by billions of dollars, contributing to higher premiums and the increasing loss of coverage and benefits for Americans.”