A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Academic Detailing Funding Saved

Academic Detailing Funding Saved

July 25, 2016

It’s a horrible name, but a great program. And with HCFA’s support, the Massachusetts state legislature just saved its funding for this year.

“Detailing” is the term used to describe the marketing of prescription drugs to doctors, pressing them to prescribe specific drugs for their patients. Detailers are sales representatives who travel to physician practices to deliver sales pitches lauding the benefits of their drugs. Often, detailers provide a free meal and drug samples as an enticement for providers to listen to their spiel. Detailers only work for name brand drugs; there are no detailers for generic alternatives.

“Academic detailing” is just the opposite. Independent experts meet with doctors, and go over current scientific information on a class of drugs, informing doctors on all the research, and making unbiased recommendations based on comparative evidence, including cost-effectiveness. The result is better patient outcomes, and lower health care costs. One study from Harvard Medical School found that each dollar spent on academic detailing saved two dollars in prescription drug costs.

For several years, Massachusetts has operated an academic detailing program, operated by the Department of Public Health. For this coming fiscal year, the plan was to focus the $150,000 program on how to best prescribe pain killers, to avoid the over-prescribing of prescription opioids. But when the fiscal year 2017 budget was presented to Governor Baker, he vetoed the funding for the program.

Last week, the legislature overrode the veto, by a 122 to 31 vote in the House, and a 36 to 3 vote in the Senate. During the override debate, Senator Mark Montigny spoke out passionately in favor of the program:

“We're not only fighting the opiate crisis, we're also fighting price-gouging by the pharmaceutical companies. This is exactly what should be done. Instead of having folks running around offices selling things they aren't even qualified to sell half the time. I think this is a great program.”

HCFA continues to press for effective prescription drug policies that save money and improve care. In addition to support for academic detailing, our prescription drug policy agenda includes greater transparency around drug prices, and eliminating copays for cost-effective preventive care. We’re very pleased that the academic detailing program survived, and will continue to press for a consumer-focused policies in this area.

-Brian Rosman