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

Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban is Working

Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban is Working

September 12, 2011

Mass Prescription Drug Reform CoalitionIn 2008, Massachusetts enacted its a pharmaceutical and medical device gift ban and disclosure law, which limited industry representatives from wining-and-dining physicians in order to encourage the prescribing of their high-cost, brand-name products. The law also established annual reporting requirements for these industries to disclose details about permitted payments made to physicians and other prescibers.

The pressure from the statute led many pharma firms to voluntarily report their national spending on doctors, and, as part of the ACA, the federal government will require national reporting in 2013. For now, the public interest journalists at ProPublica have looked closely at the voluntary reports. Liz Kowalczyk of the Globe has mined two good stories based on their research.

Globe graphic showing declining payments to physicians from pharmaceutical firms

Boston Globe chart

Last week, Kowalczyk reported that the new transparency has already yielded positive effects:

Total payments to doctors for promoting pharmaceutical companies’ products to their colleagues appear to be falling in Massachusetts, suggesting that new restrictions designed to distance doctors from industry are leading some to abandon the lucrative speaking circuit.

Payments are down nationally, not just in Massachusetts, suggesting a halo effect from our statute. Of course, the pharma companies deny anything of the sort. For years they maintained that the speakers were critical to "educate" doctors about their products. Now they're singing a different tune. Kowalczyk quotes a GSK spokeswoman as saying, “We felt it would be a better use of our resources to use fewer speakers more often. This reduces training costs and the number of contracts needed.’’

Then yesterday, Kowalczyk followed up with a story looking at pharma spending on meals for doctors. She reported that Attorney General Martha Coakley fined two companies, Analogic Corporation in Peabody and Lantheus Medical Imaging in Billerica, for improperly providing restaurant meals to doctors.

A patient shouldn’t have to wonder whether they are being prescribed a drug because it is useful, or because their doctor is influenced by benefits provided by a manufacturer. The added element of transparency holds the medical community responsible.

That the industry is paying less and more doctors are leaving the speaking arena proves that questionable ethics of pharmaceutical-doctor relations exist and that the ban is a step in the right direction toward a consumer centered health care system that focuses on quality care.

Curious about your doctor? ProPublica has created an easy-to-use interactive search tool to let you find out whether your physician has received money from drug companies.

The Public Health Committee will be hearing more bills to weaken our law in early October. We urge the legislature to not allow drug marketing to drive our public policy.
-Amanda Catalani