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

Globe Editorial, Letter Refute Pharma Claims

Globe Editorial, Letter Refute Pharma Claims

May 10, 2011

In a strong, cogent editorial last week, the Boston Globe emphasized the value of protecting our state's restrictions on gifts from the drug and device industry to doctors:

A THREE-year-old state law forbidding gifts from drug companies to doctors seems to be cutting into business at high-end local restaurants. If the Legislature repeals the law, and brings back those now-banned dinners where drug reps touted their products over lobster and chardonnay, the prescription-buying public will end up eating the cost in more ways than one.

There’s the price of the ritzy meals, of course. But there’s also an unsavory conflict of interest in doctors being feted by drug companies and then turning around and prescribing the companies’ drugs to their patients.
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Many doctors insist their professional judgment cannot be bought with fancy meals. But if wining and dining didn’t work, the drug industry wouldn’t spend $6 billion a year on direct marketing to physicians. The Legislature should send the repeal amendment and similar attempts to weaken the gift ban back to the kitchen.

The pharmaceutical industry spends billions nationally for direct marketing costs to doctors. As the nation’s medical hub, our doctors are heavily targeted by the marketeers, who solely push high-priced name brand drugs. These marketing costs are built into our drug costs, which then increase our health care premium dollars. So, at the end of the day, we are paying for those lobsters and chardonnay, during times when individuals and small businesses, including restaurants, are struggling to afford health care costs that are spiraling out of control.

These points were emphasized in a letter-to-the-editor from HCFA Executive Director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, published in the Globe last Saturday.

THE MAY 2 editorial “Feeding a conflict of interest’’ is right. While the restaurant industry may argue that our state’s gift ban has hindered sales, the facts disagree. The latest numbers from the Department of Revenue show that restaurant receipts are actually up 4 percent in the last year, despite our state’s challenging economy and our law barring pharmaceutical salespeople from wining and dining doctors.

Repealing our strong law would be bad for Massachusetts residents in two ways. First, individuals and businesses are already struggling to afford health insurance because health care costs are spiraling beyond our means. Millions of dollars spent on fancy physician meals are ultimately passed onto us. Repealing this law would ultimately cost patients more by accelerating increased copays and deductibles.

Second, the pharmaceutical industry spends $30 billion each year on marketing, primarily aimed at doctors, and even the smallest gifts can create reciprocal behavior by doctors who, intentionally or not, favor those providing the benefit. This creates a real conflict of interest. The gift ban is an important element of protecting our relationship with our doctors.

We hope that the state Senate will stand up for us and not repeal this critical law.

Couldn't have said it better ourselves.
-Jekkie Kim