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

Pharma Company Threatens to Leave MA If It Can’t Give Gifts

Pharma Company Threatens to Leave MA If It Can’t Give Gifts

May 7, 2008

Today, the drug industry leveled its newest response to the proposed ban on gifts to health care providers (passed by the Senate last month) – more of a threat than a response. In a letter reported in today’s Herald, GlaxoSmithKline accused the state of being mean to the industry and told the Governor and Speaker that the company will reconsider its ties to Massachusetts if a gift ban is imposed. All this as the state moves to invest $1 billion in the life sciences industry.

The industry seems more interested in scare tactics than real issues. First, they argue the ban will prohibit all outreach to physicians about new drugs and kill sales rep jobs. Truth is: the ban in no way prohibits sales reps from meeting with providers and giving them product info – just no gifts. Next, they argue the ban will halt industry-sponsored research. Also not true – reasonable payments to docs in exchange for scientific and medical services may continue. Then, they complain the ban subjects physicians to stricter rules than legislators. Actually, legislators by law are banned from taking anything of value from lobbyists - the proposed gift ban subjects providers to the same rules as public officials.

Now the industry threatens to leave the state because it won’t be able to peddle promotional items, meals and gifts. Seems an extreme response to ethics standards. The Senate saw through these claims and approved a gift ban because of the proven negative impact of gifts on consumers and the state. Studies prove that gifts and payments influence prescribing decisions, increasing prescribing of newer, more expensive drugs without a proven safety and efficacy record. This drives up costs for consumers and the state and threatens quality. The industry is pulling out all stops to defeat the gift ban because they know gifts work. Gifts inflate their profits and our health care premiums.

It’s clear that the 2007-2008 legislative session won’t end with a whimper. This is turning into one of the session’s biggest fights. Please visit the website of the MA Prescription Reform Coalition for more info. This is a fight worth watching.
Lisa Kaplan Howe