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Look Who's Talking About the Gift Ban Too

Look Who's Talking About the Gift Ban Too

July 14, 2010

The House vote last week to repeal the entire General laws chapter containing the pharma and medical device marketing restrictions got a lot of talk time today. The provision was added on to the financial regulatory reorganization bill.

In the Senate chamber, the Senate voted to appoint a conference committee to reconcile their bill with the House version. Senators Spilka, Downing and Tarr were named to the conference.

In the course of the debate on the motion, Senator Montigny, a long-time champion of reform of the excesses of pharma marketing, made clear that the Senate was not going to accept the House's effort to undo last session's major achievement:

The word sneaky comes to mind when we look at what the House did on the gift ban. The Senate voted over and over and over to ban gifts. It was not only the right policy for every single patient, but major cost control legislation. I greatly appreciate that it was included in the health care legislation. I will vote for the appointment of a conference committee. I want to make clear that we as a body greatly respect the expertise of the members. The last three chairs of health care all said the same thing. No industry pays billions of dollars – and yet in an economic development bill that had nothing to do with health care policies, we gutted one of the most important things. The best response I heard was about convention center business. We’re talking about life and death of patients. Just as I respect the chair of economic development, I would ask the conferees support the gift ban. State after state has said there is no place for the kind of corruption that has gone on between the pharmaceutical industry and providers. ...

All taxpayers become patients. If given the choice between a bill that guts important life-saving legislation – if we have a choice of making that bill not survive because the other branch insists on keeping that provision, then we should. I spent eight years of my career working on this legislation.

Meanwhile, WBUR's Radio Boston featured a mini debate on the issue (listen here), featuring HCFA's Georgia Maheras and a lobbyist for the device industry. From the discussion, it's clear some in the industry has moved on. The spokesman said they were not asking for a repeal, that the law doesn't interfere with their ability to talk to doctors, and that their code of ethics restricts many gifts anyway. The callers and the online comments reflect public sentiment in support of the law. Here are the two posted comments:

If, as some of the callers claim, gifts don’t influence doctors, then why do the drug companies bother to do it?

Are they going to sell out the credibility of our health care to help the restaurants a little? Doesn’t sound worth it. I don’t care that much about the health care cost going down, I want my doctors not being bribed to prescribe me the third-best drug for my condition.

We urge the conferees to reject the backdoor attempt to repeal an entire chapter of General Law that is just beginning to take effect.
-Brian Rosman